Tomeka Bryant ’13 making history on the railroad lines of New Orleans

Bryant, who was a standout softball player at Elon, followed her father into the railroad industry and this year became the first Black woman to head a short-line railroad in the United States.

Tomeka Watson Bryant ’13 knows how important logistical work is to keep the economy running. As general manager of the New Orleans Public Belt (NOPB), Bryant is focused each day on making sure the short-line railroad is helping its clients keep their products and materials moving.

Tomeka Watson Bryant ’13

The past several years have highlighted the nation’s logistical network, as supply chain challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Byrant said she’s pleased her industry is getting more attention and that the public is gaining a better understanding of logistics.

“We wake up every day knowing the work we do is important,” she explains. “But my number one priority is making sure all the women and men on our front lines are making it home safely.”

She always knew that the railroad industry could offer a career path. Bryant followed in the footsteps of her father, who worked in the railroad industry for CSX for 41 years, and for the past five years, she’s overseen business development and customer service as the manager of sales and marketing. With her appointment in May she became the first Black woman to lead a short-line railroad in the country.

As a short-line railroad, the New Orleans Public belt distributes freight to and from the riverfront docks of New Orleans and other industries. In her role, Bryant oversees 18 managers and 174 employees, providing guidance on a day-to-day basis. A typical day consists of meetings, decision-making, forecasting and coaching to other managers. She began her career as a train master, learning from the ground up and really understanding how an operation is supposed to work. She advanced to manager of operation practices, and eventually earned the title of general manager earlier this year.

Tomeka Watson Bryant during one of her at-bats as a member of the Elon softball team.

“Our workforce feels comfortable with me because I’ve been here. They’ve seen my growth and all the ups and downs throughout my career, and they’ve supported me through it. I’m blessed and appreciate that” Bryant says.

Despite the demands of her new position, Bryant is familiar with a busy schedule and responsibilities, as she was a student-athlete at Elon.

Bryant has been one of the most talented softball players to ever take the field for the Phoenix. She was the first All-American play in the program’s history and the first Elon student-athlete to receive All-American laurels since the university moved to Division I. She is the school-record career leader in hits and runs while ranking second in career batting average, home runs and stolen bases.

Last year, she was inducted into the Elon Hall of Fame.

“The work ethic it takes to be a student at Elon has definitely helped me in becoming a general manager” Bryant explains. “From an academic standpoint and an athletic standpoint, I was pushed and challenged. In my day-to-day job now, I get pushed and challenged, so I definitely think my experience at Elon had a really big impact on my career and success.”

Bryant expresses great gratitude towards Elon and all the good experiences she had while attending. She plans to bring her daughter for a tour of her alma mater, perhaps to spark the next generation of railroaders.