While other popular modes of transportation for freight and commuter transit are feeling the pinch of the economy, the rail industry is experiencing a resurgence.
For Darwin Desen, who leads the Rail Transit Group in the Dallas-Fort Worth Burns & McDonnell office, hands-on is the only way to operate. He is a doer by nature, and he's pairing that work ethic with his extensive railway experience to develop functional, beneficial rail systems in Texas and across the country.
Desen's interest in engineering began while growing up in Colorado and working on cars with his dad. He gravitated toward civil engineering, which held the potential for more opportunities to see his projects from start to finish.
"I like to take a project from beginning to end," Desen says. "Many companies have people who specialize in sales and then hand off the project, but I like to work with the client to build a relationship, develop the concept and see it through."
After graduating from the University of Colorado Denver, Desen began working for a Colorado-based engineering firm leading field surveys, highway designs and other transportation-related work. But during a trip to visit friends in Texas, he was introduced to an opportunity to join a firm in Dallas.
"My intent was to get into the highway side, but they had people chasing railroad work for Burlington Northern and asked if I was interested," Desen says.
The position required significant travel between the Texas-based firm and the project area in the Pacific Northwest. The timing was right, and Desen spent the next eight years working directly with Burlington Northern, immersed in the railroad industry and providing design and construction management services.
Over the next 15 years Desen continued to build his experience, taking on large freight and transit rail projects across the country, from large freight intermodal and auto distribution facilities to commuter rail and light rail projects. He expanded his value by becoming more involved in program management, spending eight years as the deputy project manager on the $1.4 billion Green Line expansion program for Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART).
Now that experience has become a significant asset for Burns & McDonnell clients.
"If you think about all the major industrial work we do, they are all served by rail units," says Tony Kimmey, Burns & McDonnell regional Transportation Group manager in Dallas. "It's a natural evolution for us to bring somebody in who not only understands the technical side but the design part of it, and who also really understands the operational side from a railroader's perspective."
And Desen is driven to stick with clients through every aspect of a project because he understands that in order to deliver the truly best project, he has to understand the needs of each client. Having someone who is involved in all aspects of a project's development inspires a client's confidence about the level of service being provided.
"I prefer to work through things with each client," Desen says. "I take all their information — their ideal scenarios for their projects and future — and build a relationship with them, understand their goals and try to become their go-to guy."
In just two years with Burns & McDonnell, Desen has already connected with numerous clients on rail projects. General engineering consulting (GEC) contracts have already been established with BNSF Railway and Norfolk Southern railroad, and a third GEC is in the works. Desen's experience will benefit a streetcar project in Kansas City, Mo., and a commuter rail project in the same metropolitan area.
Most recently, Desen led Burns & McDonnell to be part of the engineering team for a large environmental and planning study for the Lone Star Rail District's Passenger Rail project that will provide rail service between Austin and San Antonio in Texas. Desen will serve as project manager for the rail line that is expected to relieve congestion and improve safety between the two cities.
"Very rarely do we find somebody who can float between transit rail and cargo rail as effortlessly as Darwin can," says Leslie Duke, regional office manager of the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston Burns & McDonnell offices. "It's always such a pleasure to be able to bring Darwin's skill set to the table because he's got such a diverse background."
While other popular modes of transportation for freight and commuter transit are feeling the pinch of the economy, the rail industry is experiencing a resurgence. Transportation by rail is cheaper, more efficient and less environmentally impactful than cars, trucks and planes, and Desen's experience puts Burns & McDonnell in a unique position to help further the industry's growth. Along with that growth, the Burns & McDonnell Rail Transit Group also is likely to expand over the next several years.
"We're seeing how rail is a critical component to delivering projects, and I see a bright future in that particular marketplace," Duke says.
"The advice Darwin can provide our clients is going to be very powerful," Kimmey adds.
Contact Darwin Desen at 972-455-3116.