Stephen Gerbracht was in third grade when he climbed into the cab of his first GE locomotive. He got to ride one, the GE Dash 8 workhorse, a few years later. “I’ve been interested in locomotives since I was very young,” Gerbracht says. “I could see them being built. My father put in 40 years with the company.”
His love for locomotives stuck. Today Gerbracht is a 12-year GE Transportation veteran riding on the vanguard of his industry. His engineering team at GE Transportation’s plant in Erie, Pennsylvania, develops the latest designs for next generation locomotives. He also appears in the new GE Works television ad released this morning. “I’ve always been a railroad enthusiast,” Gerbracht says. “But now I’m able to work on locomotives during my day job, and do the things that my friends get excited about.”
Gerbracht took a direct path from the GE Dash 8 cab of his boyhood to his GE office. He studied engineering at Cornell and did an internship with GE in Erie. While at Cornell, he photographed trains and railroads and published Lake Shore News, a monthly column “covering the activities of railroading in Western Pennsylvania and all of Ohio,” including “special topics” such as a “tally of remaining interlocking towers,” and studies on “rare locomotives.” Like history, he says, railroads are a lens through which “you get to see countries grow up.” He followed old railroads to West Virginia, where operators still manually switched signals at crossings, a job done by computers today. “They were the last of their kind,” he says. “There was a man or a woman sitting in an office in the middle of nowhere and switched tracks and signals. I wanted to see the things that are changing. Those things are always enjoyable to me.”
The sense of changing history is also palpable at GE Transportation’s century-old Pennsylvania plants. The unit, which grew 45 percent last year to $4.9 billion in revenues, has been expanding factories, building new locomotives and adding jobs. Last year it said that it would invest over $400 million to open new plants and upgrade facilities in Pennsylvania and Texas and announced more than 2,400 U.S. jobs. This includes $140 million to upgrade the old Erie factory where Gerbracht’s father worked. The project includes investments in technology, new offices for hundreds of employees, and a new customer showcase center.
Soon Gerbracht will be able to take his small son to his dad’s plant. “He’s is already interested,” he says. “I think that’s the thing with locomotives and big heavy equipment. You catch the bug as a little kid and you carry it for the rest of your life.”