2022 40 Under 40: Casey C. Blaze

Aug. 23, 2022
Casey C. Blaze, Rail Equipment Manager, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA)

One word to describe yourself: Innovator 

Alma Mater: Cleveland State University (finance and MBA) 

Fun fact about yourself: I make my own bacon and corned beef. 

Favorite station or stop that you have ever visited or frequent (and why): SFMTA Cable Car Victorian Park Powell-Hyde route. Watching the operator turning the cable car turnaround, viewing the wooden brakes and then watching the car engage the cable is quiet the event. 

Favorite route you have ever ridden or frequent (and why): Red Line in Cleveland. I love leaving the W. 25th street station eastbound as the train traverses the viaduct bridge over the Cuyahoga River, it is one of the most scenic views of Cleveland. 

Casey C. Blaze is the rail equipment manager at the Central Rail Maintenance Facility (CRMF) for GCRTA. Prior to becoming the rail equipment manager, Blaze served as a rail shop supervisor and as a business analysist.  

In his current position, he is responsible for the overall success of the shop. Colleagues say that what sets Blaze apart from the rest is a combination of his age and knowledge. He is conscious of the needs of his employees, GCRTA and the community. His job entails communicating with all departments within the authority. He consistently researches ways in which he can improve the work environment for his employees, the processes in the shop and the latest technology to improve rail vehicle reliability. He has a commitment to creating a high-performance shop that aligns with customer needs and wants.     

Blaze leads the charge when it comes to understanding the needs of the shop and GCRTA. He seamlessly integrates the big picture strategy of the authority with the daily tactical level operation of the shop. In recent months, Blaze has spearheaded special committees with APTA to work with agencies across the U.S. in dealing with challenges that many are facing. He was instrumental in researching and acquiring the Moonbeam System, a UV light disinfecting product that played a vital role in public safety during COVID-19. He also assisted in the creation of the GCRTA Holiday Trains.  

Blaze’s customer service skills are exemplary. Colleagues say he is one of the friendliest people and always arrives with a smile and a happy greeting for his co-workers. He communicates effectively with all his co-workers, from the general manager level to hourly union workers. He makes it a point to learn every employee’s name within the first five minutes of meeting them.       

Despite the overwhelming amount of work that everyone must do, Blaze consistently finds ways to help his co-workers and other departments, such as volunteering to work on special projects for marketing and community relations. His willingness to assist others and his commitment to educating employees about rail is unequaled. Staff members from training, HR, legal and bus garages have all noted that Blaze is thorough in his knowledge, provides great detail about the subject matter and he consistently follows through to ensure understanding by the other team members who might have to field questions about the subject. He is quick to respond to requests for additional information by other team members and is thorough in ensuring all loose ends are completed.       

Blaze believes in knowing everything there is to know about the people, equipment and policies that are under his charge. The crew believes in Blaze and his leadership because he takes the time to learn. He is often seen on the shop floor with the crew, learning and growing his knowledge base. He seeks out knowledge from other transit authorities looking for ways to improve the operations within his own shop.      

Blaze’s commitment and initiative have paid off through numerous industry recognitions, including the APTA 2020 Gold Award for Heavy Rail COVID Innovation for the MoonBeam UV light disinfecting system; and an APTA 2020 AdWheel Award for implementing holiday trains.  

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

I started my career in public transit as my first full time job out of college. I was new to the industry, and I instantly fell in love. I worked with a group of managers who helped ignite my passion for rail, one of which became my mentor. This person saw the passion I had for rail and took the time to explain the complexities of rail operations. He taught me about each system and how the infrastructure, operator, railcar and stations all act as a system, and are equally important. I still channel the same passion in my daily work. I strive to pass along as much information as possible to help instill the same passion for public transit to new hires and the public transit community. 

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

Every day is different. I love the complexities and challenges each day brings, and diverse problems that need to be solved. I work in the rail shop, but I have the autonomy to get involved in various projects throughout the authority. I enjoy working on a variety of projects that impact the overall public perception of GCRTA, touch-a-truck events, new car procurement, holiday trains, public safety education and innovative solutions. 

What’s the most challenging part of your job? 

Maintaining multiple rail fleets, both heavy and light rail, that are older than myself at 41-years old. Each vehicle has more than 3.5 million miles and runs on original equipment. The maintenance on an older fleet involves the coordination between different departments and constant attention to emerging trends to allow for ample time to source parts. This challenge led the authority to release an RFP replacing the existing fleets with one fleet: a high floor LRV. I am actively involved in the procurement process which requires the envisioning of a proposed vehicle and how each system (infrastructure, operators, railcar and stations) will be impacted. 

Accomplishment you’re most proud of and why? 

The holiday trains that the authority releases annually. This was developed in the rail shop by a team of passionate individuals who wanted to bring joy to the city. Every year we release the trains for the public to ride, coordinating with the tree lighting in Cleveland. While the trains are in service, we do pop-up events with Santa and elves. The look of joy on everyone’s face when Santa hands them a GCRTA holiday themed swag item is priceless. The amount of joy the project brings to the city allows the hardworking group of the Central Rail Shop to see the fruits of their labor. 

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

Public transit, specifically rail, is not something you can learn from a book. You need to get out there and learn the systems and understand how each one can impact each other. Seek out the leaders of each section and ask questions, develop relationships and don’t be afraid to fail. Never stop learning. This industry is constantly developing, and you need to be agile and easily adaptable to new situations and emerging technologies. Embrace change, trust the process and have fun! 

Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority
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