Norfolk Naval Shipyard hires first African-American female train conductor

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – For Bianca Wilson, her promotion to train conductor for Norfolk Naval Shipyard is more than just a better paycheck.

“It is an honor and privilege,” Wilson says.

As its first African-American female train conductor, Wilson has broken down barriers at NNSY. She says she’s happy to be a part of that change.

“I’m overwhelmed with joy to have this opportunity. I know a lot of women are afraid of this industry, but once you get out here, it’s really fun and intriguing.”

Wilson started her career in the train industry at Norfolk Southern, where she was the first female conductor in 22 years. She says the opportunity was one that she jumped on. 

“I had no experience, but I always wanted to work for the railroad because you hear about the great money,” she says with a laugh. “I’m not your average girly-girl, so it sounded like a great opportunity and I wanted to try something new. I had no idea what I wanted to do there though. I was presented with an opportunity to become a conductor and I jumped on it. I knew it wasn’t the average career path women take, and I am always up for a challenge.”

Before her career at Norfolk Southern she was a stay-at-home mom. She says that she’s happy that her children have gotten to see both sides of her identity. 

“My kids have seen that motherly side of me, and now they’re seeing their mom being the first African American female conductor, and with three girls, it’s definitely an honor.”

Her move to NNSY was partially inspired by her children. Offering better hours, the move allows her to spend more time with her children. That said, the move was a surprising one for Wilson. Like most, she admits she didn’t know the shipyard had a railroad.

“This opportunity came out of nowhere. I honestly didn’t even know the shipyard had a railroad.”

Wilson had previously tried to get a job at the shipyard. With her great-grandfather, grandfather, and father all retirees from NNSY, and her husband currently working there, she had an interest.

She recalls a time when she waited at a shipyard career fair in the rain for eight hours without being seen. 

“It took me forever and a lifetime to get in the shipyard. I’ve been trying forever.”

The opportunity came after she mentioned her previous conductor experience, by chance, to a hiring manager at NNSY during another career fair hosted at Scott Center Annex. She received a job offer on the spot.

Now she spends her time as one of the two billeted train conductors at NNSY. It is one of the most dangerous at the shipyard.

“This is one of the most dangerous jobs – you’re dealing with tonnage. It’s heavy. We have to be very careful. We’re always making sure we’re safe. There’s a lot of traffic here, people will just walk right in front of the train. And we don’t have the lights and bells ringing when we cross streets, so we have to be hyper-aware,” she shares.

Wilson leaves women with a word of advice.

“I do encourage females to come and try a railroad job, whether it’s engineering or conducting,” she says. “It’s a whole new world. It’s a great field for women to be in. If you want something, go after it and give it all you have, the only way to fail is to not try.”

Norfolk Naval Shipyard shared the announcement in a Facebook post on Nov. 7.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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