Train Crew Life

Discussion in 'The Ready Track' started by mtaylor, Nov 4, 2005.

  1. mtaylor

    mtaylor Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    So what is the life like for a train crewmember? I ask because this is something I am considering once I retire from the Army (a few years from now). Is a person on call all of the time? How long is a person on the rails and away from home...etc etc.

    Thanks for any input
  2. GP30

    GP30 TrainBoard Supporter

    You are on call 24/7. You spend a lot of time hurrying up and waiting. You are away more than you are home. At the end of your route you are eaither taxied back or stay in a motel or company housing then you run another train back to where you came from. Not much home life.

    I think this situation is worse out west where BNSF and UP are extremely short on crews, I don't think it is quite that bad in the east.

    Some shortlines offer good pay, but not as good as working for a Class I railroad. Non-Union, but often times you get a fairly set schedule and even get to go home at night.

    It all depends on who hires you and where at.
  3. HemiAdda2d

    HemiAdda2d Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    At least the crews on BNSF get some of the nicest cabs in the US... I forget where I read that, somewhere on here... I'll post a link to the thread when I find it...
  4. HemiAdda2d

    HemiAdda2d Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

  5. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    On the big companies, your life is the railroad. Family? Well, I hear of problems. The RR owns you......

    Smaller operations- When not in train service, some will have you out changing ties, etc.

    Look closely. Talk to train crews. See if you really want to do it.

    Boxcab E50
  6. HemiAdda2d

    HemiAdda2d Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    I think Ken has a great point--get out, and do your homework before you sign on the dotted line...
    Talk to road crews, talk to carmen, talk to the folks who are doing the job you are onsidering. The pay is very attractive, as I understand, but if you have a family, the pay & benefits may not outweigh the hardship for your spouse/kids, etc. Almost as big a decision as enlisting in the military! Good luck!
  7. Charlie

    Charlie TrainBoard Member

    As some of the others have said, you are on
    call 24/7/365, unless you have enough seniority to hold a regular job. Some RR's you
    can luck out and do that with little seniority,
    but you can bet it will be a pretty crappy job.
    Another poster(s)mentioned that the RR is not
    "family friendly" and that is all TOO true! The pay is like a narcotic, once the carrier has you
    hooked, it is difficult to shake it. When you look at railroading from"outside the box", you will see that it is about the middle of the pay
    scale for blue collar jobs. You make the big buck$ from overtime and getting out on your rest every 8 or 10 hours, whichever may apply.
    Earning all that big money gives you the itch to
    buy that Dodge Ram pickup and/or the bass boat and motor you always wanted. Once you have it you want more. You want to work to provide a good life for your family, but wind up
    losing them through divorce cuz you were seldom at home and when you were you were
    probably sleeping. The romance of the rails that you experience as a railfan is actually a
    business deal between a whore and her John
    when you are on the other side of the fence.

    On the plus side, benefits are excellent, RR retirement is a LOT better and more stable than Social Security. If you like working outdoors, it is an ideal job, but be advised that
    you WILL be out in the worst possible weather. The RR doesn't care that it is 10 below with 8" of new snow which is blowing and drifting and you cant see s**t! They want
    the cars switched and/or the trains kept moving. Talk to any railroader and they will tell you what I have said is not hyperbole.All of us
    do or have done all that!

    I am a retired locomotive engineer from the BNSF but I was also a brakeman/switchman & Conductor. I worked both freight and passenger(commuter) trains.

  8. OC Engineer JD

    OC Engineer JD Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Everyone has hit it on the head pretty good. You will be at work more then you are home, and this includes holidays.
    When you are home, most of your time will be used for resting before going out again in 8-10hrs.
    Railroading is more then a is a way of life.
  9. mtaylor

    mtaylor Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    WOW thanks for the feedback guys. It really does sort of kill some of the romance doesnt it? As much as I think it would be cool, I am not sure I would be willing to do all of that after spending over 20 in the military. I will have to give this some deeper thought. [​IMG]

    Thanks again for the input.
  10. brian

    brian TrainBoard Member

    It can be the worst of jobs and the best of them. Somehow Railroading gets into your blood. I can think of no other job that I would want to ever do.

  11. Charlie

    Charlie TrainBoard Member

    I certainly have had that particular field of vision enough in my life!

  12. Ed Pinkley#2

    Ed Pinkley#2 TrainBoard Member

    Everyone has pretty much said it.It is a way of life and it gets into your blood.But there is a whole lot of hurry up and wait.As far as plusses I personally like the views that I get to see that most other people don't.Also watching the seasons change and not looking at a cubicle everyday.Well I guess the inside of a engine is a cubicle but at least the view changes.
  13. mtaylor

    mtaylor Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    The only negative aspect I can see for now is that being on call and time away from home. Which are pretty big issues. I have had allot of that in the military already. How much time off say does BNSF give their employees?
  14. Mopac3092

    Mopac3092 TrainBoard Member

    here is my take, i use to work for the ns with ed pinkley, i loved the job but hated who i worked for, the management can be something else to deal with, many people on management have never switched a train, mch less even throw a switch and they are going to tell you how it should done and fire you if not done right. i worked the local from decatur for 3 1/2 years of my time and loved it, granted it was 12 hours and more everytime out but we had fun. however if you are married and have kids it is very hard to adjust, if i was still out there i would not be married by now, i seen my wife maybe 1 hour in the morning when i got home and that was it until 2 days later when the cycle repeted itself. and i did my fair share of marking off to do my own things but that can get you in trouble out there. as far as pay, it is good, if you work non stop, and everyday. benefits are good as well. i went back to construction work and really wish i had the benefits still, but my home life and family outweighs that by far.
  15. vagabond

    vagabond TrainBoard Member

    Charlie, which of these jobs did you enjoy most?

    [ November 15, 2005, 02:58 PM: Message edited by: vagabond ]
  16. vagabond

    vagabond TrainBoard Member

    I've heard a lot about how short BNSF and UP are on crews, and I have been trying like crazy to get on with them, especially with BNSF, because their application process is so much easier than UP's. I have applied for dozens and dozens of BNSF conductor positions, and have received the standard rejection e-mail for each of them. Often they include this paragraph, "If you are interested in a career with BNSF Railway, and have not
    attended the National Academy of Railroad Sciences, check out the
    Conductor, Welding, and Mechanical training programs available at the
    National Academy of Railroad Sciences (NARS) located at the Johnson
    County Community College in Overland Park, KS. Their website is Good luck as you seek a railroad career."

    Is that the only way to get on with a BNSF or UP, or do they occasionally hire people without the academy training? I have a good work history, but I'm wondering if my age (42), or the fact that until the last couple of years most of my work experience has been in sales and customer service, are working against me?

    Anyone have any ideas on how to get to first interview or test?

  17. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    It does read as though they want some experience or training. Before they'll hire for that type of position.


    Boxcab E50
  18. Charlie

    Charlie TrainBoard Member

    Charlie, which of these jobs did you enjoy most? [/QB][/QUOTE]

    Each craft had its own good points and drawbacks, but I did enjoy working as a trainman on the commuter trains the most. I met a lot of nice folks. Sure there were a lot of stinkers too, but the good ones outweighed the bad.
    I also would meet friends and former colleagues from another employer from time to
    time. That was always enjoyable since we could "catch up" on what was going on in our
    Working as a switchman was nice when the
    weather was good, but real hell when it was
    bad. It is also a lot more dangerous than a conductor or engineers job. As an engineer or
    conductor, you have a lot more responsibility
    for your train and if something happens, the
    first person who catches the heat is the conductor. Being an engineer means that you
    dont have to be out in the horrible weather, but having to deal with the hazards of the job
    can give you ulcers and hemmorhoids. It's no
    fun when you set some air on a downgrade cuz your dynamics have either failed or are ineffectual and realize that the airbrakes are
    slow in taking effect and that red board staring
    you in the face is getting closer. Just before I stopped working, I was the engineer on a Sunday AM commuter train. On a WB trip we
    were on MT3 as opposed to the normal MT1.
    AS I was approaching the Cicero Ave Station
    I noticed the passengers crossing the main at
    grade instead of using the pedestrian subway
    that they are supposed to. I started whistling
    to gain their attention. I already had begun my
    braking routine, however the trespassers continued to cross the tracks in front of me.
    One woman was carrying a child about 6yrs old
    and she was stumbling on the ballast trying to
    reach the platform before the train. I had to put the train into emergency to prevent trapping her and the child between the train and the wall of the pedestrian subway to the
    platform. Had I not been able to stop, these people would have been crushed to death.
    That was NOT a fun day, but typical of what an
    engineers life is like.

  19. Charlie

    Charlie TrainBoard Member


    Register with your State Bureau of Employment
    for railroad employment. See what they have to say. Normally the BNSF will train you locally
    on the property. They dont send conductor trainees to the NARS any longer. When I hired on, they did!

  20. vagabond

    vagabond TrainBoard Member


    Thanks for the informative and extremely helpful insights. Most people outside of the industry like myself have no idea what stresses and dangers you guys face. I see what you mean about the ulcers and 'roids!

    Your experience with the woman and the child sheds more light on a question I was asked a couple of years ago in an interview with Amtrak for an Asst. Conductor position. (I didn't get the position, and ended up taking another non-railroad job.) Anyway, in my panel interview I was asked how I would feel about searching along side the tracks for body parts. Definitely not a question I had been asked before in any non-railroad job interviews!

    Thanks, too, for the tip about the State Bureau of Employment. I'll give it a try. It's frustrating to hear about how short-handed the railroads are, then not be able to get a sniff from anyone. I'm tempted to go to NARS, but at 42 years old, I'm hesitant to quit my job and relocate to Kansas for the duration of the training, with no assurance of a railroad job when I complete it.

    [ November 23, 2005, 02:43 PM: Message edited by: vagabond ]

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