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SEPTA Takes Top Honors At International Rail Rodeo

Kristin Geiger
SEPTA Press Officer

Eighteen of North America's best rail operators and maintenance teams flocked to SEPTA's Fern Rock Maintenance Facility for the 2013 International Rail Rodeo Competition. Held on Saturday, June 1st, the rodeo featured top contestants selected from various state and local competitions. The annual event was held in conjunction with the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) Rail Conference, the largest and most comprehensive conference for the rail industry.

"We are extremely pleased and honored to serve as the host of the APTA International Rail Rodeo and Rail Conference," SEPTA General Manager Joseph Casey said. "The conference provides a great opportunity to showcase the SEPTA system and the City of Philadelphia."

The rail rodeo competition features the latest and greatest rail car equipment. Participants compete against their peers for bragging rights and the opportunity to showcase their professional skills in separate competitions for train operator and maintainer teams.

Casey added, "As the host property for the 2013 International Rail Rodeo, the pressure was really on for the SEPTA Team and they did not disappoint."

Once the competition ended and the results were tallied-Broad Street Line Operator Sharon Mapp's screams of joy could be heard throughout the Awards Ceremony. SEPTA took top honors and won the 2013 International Rail Rodeo with the Rail Transit Team Achievement Award. This score is the combined total of the Operations Team and Maintainer Team.

SEPTA's team consisted of Broad Street Line Operator Team Sharon Mapp and her husband/teammate, Adrian "Sonny" Mapp, and Maintenance Team Robert Brooks, Donald Chakov (Fern Rock Maintenance Facility) and Nicholas Baldassarre (Wayne Junction Maintenance Facility).

"We are so proud of their achievements at the International Rail Rodeo," said Casey. "In taking the Rail Transit Team Achievement Award, our winners showed the home town crowd and teams from around the country their professional pride and drive for excellence."

This year's event marked the 21st year for the International Rail Rodeo Competition and is one that will not be forgotten. Taking the 2013 Rail Rodeo Team Achievement Award was the final milestone for SEPTA in the APTA Triple Crown - Outstanding Transportation System (2012) and Bus Roadeo Grand Champions (2013). All of this was made possible by the hard work and dedication of SEPTA employees, both past and present.

The Rail Rodeo was also a time to honor the legacy of John P. LaForce, a 58-year SEPTA employee who died in November 2012. John was a Philadelphia transit employee long before SEPTA existed - he started working as a streetcar operator for Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC) in January 1954. Over the years, he moved up through PTC and SEPTA, holding positions as a bus, subway and trolley operator, signals specialist, chief engineer of power and deputy chief engineering officer. The Authority recognized John's long tenure and love of trains by naming the signal tower at Fern Rock the LaForce Signal Tower in John's memory.

"John was beloved within the SEPTA family and widely respected within the industry," said SEPTA Deputy General Manager Jeff Knueppel. "He didn't know the meaning of 'I can't' and, even after an almost 60-year tenure at SEPTA, he was still on the first train in the morning to come to the office. He loved working at SEPTA."

A plaque that will be placed on the LaForce Signal Tower was unveiled during the Rail Rodeo. Four generations of the LaForce family were present at the ceremony - John's wife Diane, daughter Donna, granddaughter Jessica and great-granddaughter Skylar. "We could never imagine an entire building being dedicated in John's honor," said Jessica. "This means the world to our family." Jessica brought a quilt she made from her grandfather's tie collection. The quilt includes two of John's favorite sayings: "It's been a good run" and "It's not how you fall but how you get up". The quilt will be auctioned at a golf outing and the proceeds will support the education of another engineer. "This way, someone else can have a part of John," Jessica added.

The entrance to the Mechanical Event at the 2013 International Rail Rodeo which was held at SEPTA's Fernrock Maintenance Facility is shown above.

Pictured from left to right; SEPTA General Manager Joseph Casey poses for a photo with SEPTA's 2013 International Rail Rodeo Team Nicholas Baldassarre, Donald Chakov, Robert Brooks, Sharon Mapp and Adrian "Sonny" Mapp. Also pictured are SEPTA's Assistant Director of Railroad Service Tony Alessandrine and Assistant General Manager of Operations Ronald Hopkins

Family members of John LaForce, a 58-year SEPTA employee, display a quilt made entirely from his tie collection during a special ceremony at the rail rodeo.

The Authority honored the legacy of John LaForce by naming the signal tower at Fern Rock the LaForce Signal Tower in John's memory.