By Abigail Goldring, Media Relations Staff
The view from the front of a PATH train on the Newark-World Trade Center line is breathtaking.
PATH Engineer Elena Clarke enjoys that rare view every day, watching the sun set over the city skyline while she’s on the job. “I remember when I first saw that view,” she recalled as she headed east into New York from Newark Penn Station on a recent afternoon run.
Clarke sits at the front of the train, controlling its speed, among many other crucial tasks in order to transport thousands of passengers safely from one side of the Hudson to the other. In addition to operating the entire train, she’s also looking out for hazards on the tracks – everything from maintenance workers to dropped cell phones – and constantly coordinating with her fellow conductor and the control desk.
“I don’t think people realize that there’s a real person up front keeping that train moving,” Clarke said. “I’m laser-focused when I get in that seat. I’m the reason people get to work or go home to their families, and that’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s really rewarding.”
Clarke wasn’t always in the driver’s seat. After college, she wanted to be a professor but eventually realized that she didn’t want to be in school for that long. After a few different jobs, her father, a second-generation Port Authority employee (making her a third), suggested that she go after an engineer or conductor job at PATH.
“My first thought was, are you crazy? I can’t drive a train!” Clarke remembered.
Nevertheless, she applied to work at PATH. And although she was passing all her tests, she still felt like she didn’t belong in the engineer’s chair. “Before I started at PATH, I thought working with trains was a man’s world,” she said. “I thought I was going to be looked at as a joke.”
But as Clarke transitioned from passenger assistant to conductor to engineer, she started to see the number of female engineers increasing. Today, she’s among 37 other female engineers, up from just three in 2000. “I saw other women doing the jobs that I wanted to do, and it made me feel like I can do this and I want to do this,” she said.
Operating a PATH train on the system’s busiest line during rush hour takes an incredible degree of focus and quick decision-making. Dan Ryan, a dispatcher based in Newark, has experienced Clarke’s skill firsthand. “Elena is so dependable. I know I can count on her for anything, whether that’s keeping her train on time or helping out a fellow crew member,” he said.
Clarke’s job is not an easy one and her dedication does not go unnoticed, whether that’s out in the field below the Hudson River or back at her parents’ house in South Carolina.
“If her grandfather was alive today, he’d be very proud that she’s a third generation Port Authority employee,” said her father, Michael Clarke. “Knowing that she’s now confident in what she initially saw as a very challenging job, it also makes me proud to have her as my daughter and my co-worker.”