When Jason’s grandfather asked for two round-trip tickets to the next station and back, he wasn’t taken seriously. “It was a ticket with no real purpose other than to ride the Shinkansen,” says Jason, who was just four years old at the time. “We weren’t actually intending to travel anywhere. We just took the Shinkansen for one stop from Tokyo to Yokohama, and then took it directly back. The ticket seller was like: ‘No, don’t buy this ticket, it’s a waste of time and money.”
But far from being a wasted trip, the journey on Japan’s high-speed rail network set the wheels of Jason’s career in motion. “I remember looking out the window and seeing everything go by faster than I had ever seen before at the time. We didn’t even ride on the fastest section, but it was enough to convince me,” he says.
Riding the Shinkansen is a grandfather-grandson tradition the pair continue to honor. Every few years, Jason, who grew up in Seattle, USA, and his grandfather, who lives in Taiwan, fly to Japan to ride a different line. The trips are a way to spend time together while marveling at the incredible railway infrastructure and beautiful views hurtling past the windows.
Every day, the Tokaido Shinkansen Line alone carries more than 445,000 passengers. “I’m fascinated by the amount of people trains can move,” says Jason. “It’s just not possible to achieve that kind of capacity with cars. Anyone who tries would destroy the city in the process by replacing entire neighborhoods with roads. And they still won’t succeed. There’s no other way to move this amount of people.”
It’s also the efficiency with which the Shinkansen network operates that keeps Jason coming back again and again. “When built right, trains combine the best of capacity, reliability, and speed, which no other mode of transportation can match,” he says. With an average annual delay of just 0.9 minutes and a top speed of 320 km/h, it promises a very different experience to that of Future Maker Esha Kaul, who describes a train route in India that has an average delay of 11.5 hours.
Going underground to find freedom
Journeys with his grandfather heightened Jason’s interest in transport, but a trip with his orchestra to London aged 14 really cemented the fact that this was an industry he’d like to work in. “London wasn’t a spark, but a confirmation,” he says.
The visit opened his eyes to an entirely new way of getting around. “I grew up in suburban America, where you basically need a car to get everywhere. If you walk around, people look at you like ‘Why are you walking here?’” Too young to hold a license, he’d always been reliant on his parents, but everything changed when he discovered the London Underground. “My friends and I were free to go anywhere in the city and that was the first taste of the freedom that a frequent, comprehensive public transport system can bring,” he says.
It made Jason question why a similar network wasn’t available to him and his friends back home. “I thought: ‘Wait, why aren’t more cities up for this?’ At least in Seattle, because public transport there was fairly underdeveloped at that time,” he says. On returning home, he emailed the Department of Transportation asking for information about any plans to upgrade the city’s transport infrastructure. They replied, confirming plans to build the Link light rail, as well as a host of intelligent traffic systems to manage traffic, which Jason immediately began researching.
Jason applied for an internship during his first year at the University of Washington, and ended up working at the traffic management center for the Washington State Department of Transportation, where he managed highway traffic for almost four years. “I did the best I could to manage and delay congestion on Seattle’s highways, but even with the best traffic management infrastructure, it hits eventually and there’s no stopping it,” he says. “After that point, I watched people sit through traffic all day, until it was my turn to sit through traffic at the end of my shift.”
I'm fascinated by the amount of people trains can move. It's just not possible to achieve that kind of capacity with cars. Anyone who tries would destroy the city in the process by replacing entire neighborhoods with roads.Jason Lu
An extraordinary interview
Jason’s passion for the railway industry didn’t fade over time, and the same can also be said for his other more musical interest — his violin. So much so, that when Jason was invited to an assessment center in Germany as part of his application to the two-year Siemens Graduate Program, he prepared a rather unusual party trick.
Asked to bring a ‘special object’ to the interview, Jason grabbed his violin and played the sound the Intercity-Express 3 — a German high-speed train made by Siemens — makes as it accelerates. Having studied videos of the train in action, he could replicate its sound perfectly. “I think they found it really amusing,” he says. “They definitely laughed. I’m not really sure if it was a ‘Oh, you’re so nerdy’ sort of laugh or ‘This is cool’ sort of laugh. It doesn’t matter, but I guess it was something unique.” It was an unusual way to make an impression, but it certainly worked and he gained a place on the program.
As well as helping him through the interview process, Jason’s hobby has taught him discipline — and that’s something he has brought to the workplace. Currently on his final rotation within the program as a Transportation Engineer based in Switzerland, he says: “My violin is not something I just play for 10 or 15 minutes. You pick out something you’re not good at playing, but you don’t practice until you get it right. You practice until you can’t get it wrong. It could take hours, weeks, or years and it’s the same attitude I apply to the learning curve at work,” he says. It’s come in handy when conquering complex railway specifications, as well as German, in order to communicate with fellow engineers and local contractors.
You pick out something you're not good at playing, but you don't practice until you get it right. You practice until you can't get it wrong. It's the same attitude I apply to the learning curve at work.Jason Lu
A career to match his passion
Currently, Jason is helping to revamp the Matterhorn-Gotthard-Railway, an integral rail line that runs through the Swiss Alps. “It is a cogwheel railway, where trains run along cliffs, take hairpin curves, and climb up mountains to glaciers. I’m a so-called Numtot [part of a global network of millennials who want to make cities better through public transport] and this is what some would call ‘peak transit’.”
Working with a team of eight others, they’re responsible for replacing 40-year-old trackside equipment, upgrading safety systems, and rebuilding entire train stations to meet modern accessibility requirements. “Many of these places like Zermatt are only accessible by rail, so it’s a lifeline for the
region,” he says. “It’s a very challenging railway because of extreme geographical and climate conditions. We have everything from rockslides to avalanches. There’s so much snow in the winter that if you’re not careful where you design railway signaling components, a snowplow could push
snow against them and rip them right off, which would shut down the line,” he says.
Help is always on hand, however, in the form of a team of experts with 15 to 20 years of experience, so he’s learning quickly. “You can talk to any coworker and they’ll go right into detail about a specific component in the railway signaling infrastructure and help you find the right specifications to
work with. The best part about having the support of veteran engineers is that they can share unique information that you can’t find in text,” he says.
For some, the journey to a dream career can involve many twists and turns, but Jason shows what can happen when you identify a passion early — and refuse to let it go. Every day, he’s able to impact the future of an industry that has fascinated him ever since he was a little boy.
Swapping Seattle for Switzerland
Jason has traveled from America to Germany to Switzerland-interspersed with regular trips to Japan-because of his love ofr transport. Having grown up in Seattle, which meant relying on a car to get from A to B, he loves living in Switzerland thanks to its trains, trams, buses, and boats. "Urban and transport planning in Switzerland definitely focuses more on quality of life and sustainability. It's easier to live in, you can see that the cities and villages are designed for people, not cars."
What does remind him of Seattle, however, are the mountains and lakes sprinkled across Switzerland, which her explores whenever he has a chance.
Jason took part in the Siemens Graduate Program (SGP), an entry-level scheme for the Future Makers of tomorrow. Over the course of two years, participants gain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed at Siemens, benefit from the support of a personal mentor, and complete an assignment at one of 1,700 worldwide locations.
Jason Lu graduated from the University of Washington with a Civil Engineering degree before moving to Germany to learn more about railways and complete a Masters in Transportation Systems at the Technical University Munich. He is currently part of the Siemens Graduate Program, where he is spending his last of three rotations living in Zurich and working in System Engineering at Siemens, Switzerland. He is due to graduate in September 2018, where he will become the product manager for Advanced Traffic Management Systems. Find out more about working at Siemens.
Jason is a Future Maker — one of the 377,000 talented people working with us to shape the future.