PHL’s Kimia Khatami named one of Progressive Railroading’s Rising Stars

Kimia Khatami, director of customer service for Pacific Harbor Line, has been named to Progressive Railroading magazine’s prestigious list of railroading’s Rising Stars for 2019.

Launched by Progressive Railroading in 2013, the Rising Stars program celebrates the industry’s emerging talent. The magazine defines a Rising Star as someone under 40 making a positive impact on his or her company, organization, department, or team, as well as someone held in high regard by peers, colleagues, supervisors, customers, and others in the industry.

“I am greatly humbled and honored by the fact that our company has trusted me to take on challenges that have developed my business acumen and character,” says Khatami. “Our industry is rapidly evolving and tremendously impactful; two very fundamental factors that draw young talent.”

Progressive Railroading honored Khatami and the other Rising Stars at a recognition dinner held July 22 in Norfolk, Va.

Khatami joined Pacific Harbor Line (PHL), a subsidiary of Chicago-based Anacostia Rail Holdings, in 2015. She was promoted to her current position in 2018. A graduate of Brigham Young University (BYU), she began her railroad career at Union Pacific (UP), where she held various positions in marketing and sales.

Khatami’s experience at PHL includes managing commercial projects, government relations, business development, and environmental regulatory compliance. More specifically, she describes her work as serving as the liaison between external customers and the internal PHL organization. “I’m the bridge that links the company’s priorities and operational requirements to the customer, and the internal advocate of our customers to our company; the goal being success on both sides.”

Her customer base is a demanding one. Khatami shares that approximately 70 percent of the PHL business involves intermodal cargo handled through on-dock terminals and UP and BNSF local teams. The remaining 20 percent represented by carload business ranges across large petrochemical firms, agricultural products shippers, and industrial products transloaders.

Her efforts in the environmental area were recognized in 2017 when she was nominated for the Association of American Railroads’ John H. Chafee Environmental Excellence Award for her work in ensuring PHL’s compliance with environmental regulations in the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Khatami’s route to a railroad career seems unconventional, until you dig into the details. At BYU, she participated in four-month economic development fellowship in Uganda, where she worked on projects to help disadvantaged citizens obtain access to savings accounts with a goal of decreasing wealth disparity. During her time there, she gained an increased appreciation for the role that infrastructure plays in successful economies.

“I further realized through my research that a country can be resource rich but without proper infrastructure investment, it cannot capitalize on those resources, and that led me to further appreciate what we have here in the U.S,” she explains. “To grow a healthy middle class and make goods equally accessible to people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, you must have a sophisticated transportation network. I decided on the transportation industry to make a contribution and build on what others before me had worked so hard to create.”

As she approached graduation, Union Pacific emerged as a company interested in recruiting her, and that led to her first job in railroading. Khatami spent a few enjoyable years at UP until the opportunity at PHL emerged, giving her a chance to move back to California. The decision has brought many rewards.

“To be part of the work we’re doing at PHL is really incredible to me. We have grown year after year to support our partners and I am proud that our team is an integral part of the success that Port of LA & Port of LB have had over the years,” she says. “I particularly enjoy the day to day challenges brought about by constant industry changes and coordinating neutrality in a very complex operating environment.

That wide, contextual view of transportation is something Khatami’s boss, PHL President Otis L. Cliatt II, appreciates.

“Kimia understands the value that transportation plays in the global economy and she has a true passion for the transportation and logistics industry,” says Cliatt. “It shows in her work each day in the largest port complex in North America, as we consider PHL to be the first and last mile of that global economy.”

Khatami has executive board leadership positions in several industry-related organizations, including the Harbor Association of Industry and Commerce, the California Short Line Railroad Association, and the Long Beach Chamber International Business Association.

Pacific Harbor Line provides rail transportation, maintenance, and dispatching services to the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, which together form the largest container port in the U.S. In addition to switching more than 40,000 units of carload freight annually, PHL provides switching services for nine on-dock intermodal terminals and provides dispatching services for about 140 intermodal or unit trains per day. PHL connects with BNSF and UP.