2021 40 Under 40: Anthony J. Ortolani Jr.

Nov. 23, 2021
Anthony J. Ortolani Jr., Project Manager, Modern Railway Systems (MRS)—currently contracted to the Utah Transit Authority (UTA)
  • One word to describe yourself: Integrity
  • Alma Mater: Local 25 IBEW JATC Apprenticeship Program
  • Fun fact about yourself: I have moved more than 40 times in my life.
  • Favorite station or stop that you have ever visited or frequent: The WTC Cortlandt in downtown Manhattan, N.Y. The rebuilt station is a piece of functional artwork and a testament to the perseverance of the people of New York.
  • Favorite route you have ever ridden or frequent: I used to take the Long Island Rail Road from Manhasset, N.Y. into the city a lot when I was younger. It’s a really convenient spur with only one or two stops.

Anthony Ortolani Jr. is a trained electrician who came to the mass transit industry in 2015 where he has contributed significantly to Modern Railway Systems’ (MRS) projects and in the implementation of train control and communications systems for U.S. transit agencies.

As project manager, Ortolani has been charged with leading several major systems projects, including the Positive Train Control (PTC) Implementation Project for Utah Transit Authority on its 90-mile FrontRunner Commuter Rail system. Under his leadership, MRS’ team designed, furnished, installed and implemented Enhanced-Automatic Train Control (E-ATC) to comply with the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008. This E-ATC solution builds upon the existing signaling and communication system, which required Ortolani and his team to develop a variety of product overlays and architectures for each of the system’s distinct segments. Field implementation was performed at 150 locations with complex hardware and software revisions. The complicated project required Ortolani and his team to perform all installation, implementation and field testing without impacting commuter rail service on the single-track system.

Ortolani collaborated closely with UTA and project stakeholders to understand their operational needs and develop implementation plans to protect ongoing operations while upgrading the system with this technology. His proactive approach resulted in zero accidents or incidents, and his team’s contribution helped UTA to achieve the federally mandated deadline for PTC implementation. Ortolani’s energy, leadership and clear understanding of the technical elements of the work were instrumental in enabling the team to overcome the obstacles related to the design and application of the technology, and ultimately, resulted in a successful project delivered on time and within budget.

In connection with the UTA project, Ortolani joined other industry leaders in a PTC Users Group, which includes representation from transit agencies, suppliers, contractors and FRA. The goal is to work collaboratively to jointly optimize the design, construction, implementation, testing and certification of PTC systems across the country.

Most recently, Ortolani has applied his solutions-oriented management to the Tempe Streetcar Project for Valley Metro. The project team is currently completing final integration testing on the three-mile streetcar line through downtown Tempe, Ariz. A challenging situation arose when the owner requested MRS to add another control point at an advanced stage of the project. This control point ties the new streetcar line into the existing light-rail line, and it was critical to maintain light-rail service during implementation. The installation and testing work was extensive and could have been extremely disruptive to Valley Metro’s operations. Ortolani led the project team to develop an approach for incremental construction and testing for the control point during short work windows to minimize impacts. They completed the work safely and without any unplanned impacts to Valley Metro.

In addition to his project responsibilities, Ortolani has devoted himself to educating others, improving MRS’ processes, mentoring team members and participating in safety and improvement committees. He helped produce and deliver training programs for various transit customers on complex signal and communications systems applications. He helped translate specifications into concrete training program requirements to meet customers’ evolving needs. And he organized cross-functional teams, including subcontractors, to develop and deliver training to customer personnel to ensure they had the resources to maintain their systems. He also conducts mentoring sessions to ensure that junior staff are aware of expectations and how to achieve their goals.

Because of his record of managing safe projects, Ortolani was selected as an inaugural member of the corporate Safety Steering Team, and he continues in this role today. Outside of work, he contributes to his community, volunteering in various roles with the youth ministry at his church and at retirement and assisted living communities. 

Is there a specific experience that led you to where you are today?

In my opinion, there is likely never a single experience that leads someone to have a great career. My career is the culmination of many wonderful experiences. By far the most profound have been the mentorships I received from others along the way. I have been extremely fortunate to have been mentored by whom I feel are the absolute best in their industries. If I may drop a few names, Daniel Meservey has been my principal mentor in the transit industry, and Rick Fantini was my principal mentor in the power production industry. My father, Anthony Ortolani Sr. has been my mentor in all things throughout my entire life. Each of them is a linchpin in my amazing career.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The challenging nature of transit rail systems. My role with Modern Railway Systems presents me with new challenges each and every day. As soon as I think I have it all figured out, a humbling experience grounds me and sets me back on the path of learning and personal growth again.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

My goal is to always identify a path that is a win-win for both Modern Railway Systems as a contractor and for our customers. It’s important to consistently step back and reflect on what the goals and needs are from the perspective of each stakeholder on a project. Once you have a clear understanding of what those individual goals are, the challenge is to find the best path to ensure that all of those goals are met to the best of our ability. Sometimes this flows nicely, but at other times it can be quite challenging. However, I’ve found that with enough thought and planning, there is almost always a way to achieve this.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of and why?

When I was around 23 years old I developed an Instrumentation and Process Control training program for IBEW Local Union #3 in New York City. We successfully launched and ran a few classes of journeymen electricians through the program, many of which went on to have amazing careers as process control technicians in the New York City area. This was extremely rewarding for me for a few reasons. The first reason is that I was still an apprentice electrician for IBEW Local Union #25 on Long Island, NY at the time. It was daunting to teach seasoned journeymen a new skill, while I was still going through the apprenticeship. But it was extremely rewarding to give back to the program that gave so much to me, while helping others with their careers. It also taught me that with enough drive and tenacity, there really isn’t anything that you cannot accomplish. Ever since this experience, the training and cultivation of others has been a personal passion of mine.

Best advice/tip/best practice to share from your area of expertise?

Get started. The fear of the unknown can be a powerful and debilitating force that causes many people to hesitate when confronted with a challenging new task that is likely to help them grow immensely. Ben Francia famously said, “Nothing truly great has ever come from a comfort zone”. Most of the successes that I have had in my career can be tracked back to taking challenging tasks head-on. In my experience, the harder the task, the more fulfilling it is when it’s complete. I honestly believe that people are far more capable than they give themselves credit for. Afterall, success is nothing more than the point at which preparation and opportunity meet.