Edwina Justus, the first black woman to become a train engineer in the 1970s

Edwina Justus/Photo credit: Greenbrier Companies

Edwina Justus was the first Black female locomotive engineer at Union Pacific Railroad, one of the largest and oldest railway companies in the United States. Her achievement was a significant milestone for her and the transportation industry as a whole. When she was first hired in the 1970s as a Traction Motion Clerk, her dream did not go beyond monitoring the condition of locomotive engines.

During that period, she was happy to learn about the fascinating ways locomotive engines operate. She was among five black women who worked at the Omaha office of Union Pacific Railroad. She felt she could do more for herself in the transport industry, so when she heard of an opening for a train engineer she applied, according to greenbrier companies. In 1976, she became the first black engineer at the age of 34.

In her autobiography, Edwina recalled how she joked about how easy it was to drive a locomotive engine at the mechanical shop. She was challenged by the men at the workshop, prompting her to jump on the train to start the engine. That is how her journey began, according to Union Pacific, but it wasn’t a smooth sail for Edwina.

Throughout her career, She faced numerous challenges and barriers as a woman of color in a male-dominated industry. She had to deal with racism and sexism at the same time on the railroad while working hard to make her mark.

However, she remained undeterred and focused on her goals. As a result, she became a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion in the workplace and has mentored and encouraged other women and people of color to pursue careers in transportation.

When she was posted to North Platte, Nebraska, to begin her work, there were only 79 blacks out of a community of 22,000 residents. She strived hard to deliver on her targets when she was given the position of Locomotive Engineer, increasing her responsibilities as she inched higher on the career path.

Edwina’s achievements have been celebrated by her colleagues and the transportation industry as a whole. She became a trailblazer and a role model for women and minorities who aspire to work in the transportation industry. Her determination, hard work, and success have shown that barriers can be overcome with perseverance and dedication.

She married Art Justus, who was also an engineer at Union Pacific. They both resided at North Platte with their family while they worked at the train station commuting from Cheyenne, Gering to Marysville, Kan. Edwina’s name became a household name when she vied for the position of mayor in 1996. She however did not win but mounted a spirited campaign that earned her a third position among six candidates. She retired from the Union Pacific Railroad job in 1998 and relocated to her native region of Omaha, where she championed various causes.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: March 27, 2023


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