Would like Info from Real-World Railroaders

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DakotaLove39

Always Improvising
Hey guys. I have some questions for anyone who works on a real railroad, especially in the U.S. There is a tech college nearby that offers schooling for conductors (and I believe another position, can't remember what.), and I have been considering enrolling for a couple years. My current job is not the best and doesn't pay much, and I can't think of another option I would like to pursue.

Basically I just would like to know what the job is like, and what the responsibilities are. I know it's typically long days at work and little personal time (unless you're falling down sick, so I hear), but I've never been able to ask questions of guys who do it for real.
 

Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
There is a tech college nearby that offers schooling for conductors (and I believe another position, can't remember what.),
Which one? I almost went to NARS last year.

Basically I just would like to know what the job is like, and what the responsibilities are. I know it's typically long days at work and little personal time (unless you're falling down sick, so I hear), but I've never been able to ask questions of guys who do it for real.
While I do not work in the traffic department (TE&Y Trainmen, Engineers & Yard), I'll share what I know. It is very heavily seniority driven. New people start out with the really bad "turns" that don't pay well nor have regular hours. It takes years to start moving into assigned positions (turns) that have regular hours. Of course if one likes the road life they do not have to move into an assigned position. Obviously trains will pick up a crew in one place and "tie up" in another so you could expect to be away from home for two days at a time.

There are constant tests and certifications in order to move up.

One of the big jokes is that BNSF means "Better Not Start a Family".

On the other hand there are many other jobs in the railroad industry. There are track workers, signal gangs, car and locomotive repairmen, and crew callers.

The railroad industry is one of the few that still has a pension program. Railroad workers are not with social security there is a separate federal railroad retirement plan.
 
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bob

Administrator
Staff member
Try and find somebody local you can talk to, or maybe on Facebook. Not a lot of real railroaders hang out here, though I think we have a few around. Typically if you do it all day long, you probably don't want to come home and build models of it after work.

Often the railroaders that do get into model railroading do so when they retire.

As for the job, I've never worked for a Class 1, but you're right about the hours and difficult work. As IH mentioned, seniority is everything. You spend a lot of time out of town, and when you start you get the jobs nobody else wants. Lots of night shifts. The new rules on crew scheduling have slightly lessened the issue of fatigue, but sleep deprivation is still an issue.

I'd strongly suggest you only do it if you're really truly inspired to become a railroader. Model railroading is fun. Real railroading often isn't. It's long, hard, dangerous work. Yes, it pays well, but what good is a high paying job when you spend half your life in a motel in some remote town waiting to be called for run back to the home base.

There's lots of other options as IH mentioned, some difficult, some not. I'd do some serious research first.
 

DougC

Member
I've worked for the C&TS RR (engine watchman, fireman, brakeman, car knocker, etc. - 2 years); Texas State RR (mechanic helper - 6 months); Missouri Pacific RR (extra-board brakeman - 2 years); Frisco RR (chief clerk in offline sales office - 2 years); Burlington Northern (offline sales office and online Chief Clerk in an on-line office 2 years; Sales Rep/National Account Manager/Pricing manager - 5 years; general sales - 2 years); and my own company for 16 years contracting out and moving high, wide and overweight loads on the railroads in the US, Canada and Mexico. Am now retired.

So, two thumbs up for what Bob said. Working in a railroad's operations department is challenging, difficult, a constant struggle, almost constant irregular and lack of sleep issues, you regularly risk your life especially in switching at night, and the rules/regulations (and penalties for messing up) keep piling up year after year. And yes, IF you can get railroad work in the operations department as a newbe it does indeed pay very well - but understand the costs listed above.

DougC
 

RCH

Been Nothin' Since Frisco
I agree with what's been posted so far. I wouldn't waste your money on Choo-choo U, either. NARS new hires and new hires off the streets go through the same training program at the railroad and there's no advantage given for the prior training. You still have to work your way over time through the ranks of seniority. BNSF and UP are both hiring so save yourself some money and check their websites. It's free.

Just a word of advice about which jobs you apply for: I notice that most maintenance windows are in the daylight and not always on weekends. By contrast, as an engineer I only have to work on days that end in "Y". So, you might give maintenance of way a thought. At least you'll have a shot at a regular life.
 

Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
NARS new hires and new hires off the streets go through the same training program at the railroad and there's no advantage given for the prior training.
That is true. My going to NARS would have been through the BNSF with them paying for it.
 

RCH

Been Nothin' Since Frisco
The same campus is where they train everyone from signal maintainers to engineers to yardmasters. My classes were in the BNSF only portion of the building when I was in engine school, but the NARS classrooms are basically right there.

I think NARS probably helped quite a few people get jobs up to the latest hiring rush, but anymore there is so much demand I don't even see those NARS-only conductor classes posted. In Fort Worth, I heard UP is hiring a class a month while BNSF only has one that I know of starting Monday. Of course, if you're willing to work in North Dakota, I think BNSF would be interested in hearing from you. I think they have a primary recall up there now and it is a closed seniority district, so good luck getting out of there if you want to transfer your seniority.
 

Boris

Beach Bum
I've been retired for almost five years, after a 42 year career, during which I worked for the Pennsylvania, Penn Central, Conrail, and Amtrak, as well as in the 717th Railway Operating Battalion, USA. I worked as a yard clerk, a Crew Caller, Fireman, Engineer, Road Foreman, Rules Examiner, Trainmaster and Engineer. From my perspective, the railroad dominates your life. not only are you regulated by the railroad, but also the government, both on and off the job. The pay is good, the benefits are decent, and the retirement is also good, but you will most certainly earn it. Also, you will never get rich. I wasn't sure of weekends off until the last five years I worked. Nothing is ever certain.

Having said that, it is better than most hands on jobs available, and within limits you do have access to good medical care, dental etc. and a good pension. Because there is a real current demand for crews, the railroads will hire and train directly at their expense. If you are interested, apply. Jobs are listed on railroad sites as well as the railroad Retirement Board site. www.rrb.gov
 

CSXPAID

Member
these is all pretty accurate facts!!! Although I do have to disagree on the working on trains all day and not wanting to work on models when home. Its 24/7 trains at my house I even have modeled when sitting at a red signal for hours!!! these resin kits always have flash to clean up
 
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DakotaLove39

Always Improvising
This is very much a necropost, but I had to re-visit this thread. Ironically it was a year ago that I started this, and after this thread I sort of shut down the idea.

Well, a year has passed and I am still in the same place that I was before despite numerous job applications to tool companies and warehouses and such.

So I think I'm gonna go for the real trains. I'm still a young guy with no major life ties to think about (besides a 9-year-old brother). I'm definitely not going to make a career with auto parts, so.
 
I drive taxi for the bnsf and i have met guys that went to the schools when they hired on to a regular. railroad they were forced to retake the class. the shortlines will probly take your cert from choo choo. but the up and bnsf have there on schools. check with the railroad you want to work with before you start v
 

Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
Is there an age restriction on applying for a RR job?
On the low end you have to be of legal age. On the high end, the railroads cannot discriminate because of age. As long as the person can physically perform those activities required by the job they will be considered.
 

logandsawman

Well-Known Member
Is there an age restriction on applying for a RR job?
I applied (unsuccessfully) with BNSF last year and there was no stated age restriction. But, their big emphasis was their retirement plan which heavily benefits the young new hires.

Good luck, and if you go through an interview talk about safety and little else.

lasm
 

DakotaLove39

Always Improvising
I drive taxi for the bnsf and i have met guys that went to the schools when they hired on to a regular. railroad they were forced to retake the class. the shortlines will probly take your cert from choo choo. but the up and bnsf have there on schools. check with the railroad you want to work with before you start v
Right. I would have ended up in that situation if my relative (who actually just started with UPRR) hadn't told me that both BNSF and UPRR will train you.

Is there any difference between the two as far as employment? They both do the same thing and have been doing that same thing for a century, so I can't imagine there would be a lot of difference other than what color you're surrounded with.

Of the two, I think I would want to go for BNSF because of personal interests (also my great-grandfather worked for GN), but UPRR also has that potential for steam excursion trains...
 

logandsawman

Well-Known Member
. As long as you meet the requirements of the job you are applying for, they will hire you.

Joe
You sound pretty certain about that and wonder if you have inside information? When I applied, within two days BNSF said they reviewed their business plan and would not be hiring anyone out of our group.

There were about 50 people that passed the initial testing and muster and it was supposed to be a class of 20 conductors, so if all 50 of us passed the rest of the process, they still would have had to cut 30 by my calculations.

They also reserved the right to lay us off at any time if business was to slow down, and we would have been the lowest on the totem pole. They actually did a pretty good job of convincing that my present job with no layoff perspective was better than being a newbie with the RR. I do have my family to support, as my wife is unable to work.

I would love the railroad life, however, since my shoe leather has always been itchy.

lasm
 

DakotaLove39

Always Improvising
When I applied, within two days BNSF said they reviewed their business plan and would not be hiring anyone out of our group.

There were about 50 people that passed the initial testing and muster and it was supposed to be a class of 20 conductors, so if all 50 of us passed the rest of the process, they still would have had to cut 30 by my calculations.

They also reserved the right to lay us off at any time if business was to slow down, and we would have been the lowest on the totem pole.
lasm
when was this? I keep hearing (outside of any railroad channels, hobby or otherwise) that all railroads are crazy busy lately thanks to all the oil stuff that has been going on.

In fact I heard it was so bad that many oil-alternative energies wanted the Keystone Pipeline built in hopes that it would boot oil off the rails so that THEY could ship their stuff.
 

logandsawman

Well-Known Member
when was this? .
This was back in November when they were going to hire a group of Conductor Trainees for their Superior, Wisconsin operations. I took the on line test, passed, also about three hours of testing at the interview, which most of us passed. (those that didn't pass were notified while we were standing in line for the drug test).

Then there was a 15 minute 1 on 1 interview. About two days later I got the letter that they decided not to put on the training class. Someone advised me to try Williston, but my wife and I have moved twice allready and I recently came off a stint fracking oil wells out there, frankly, we did (do) not have the energy to move.

We only live about 15 miles from Superior so that would have been ideal. Anyway, I could reapply because the 6 month period has passed, but I have gotten several raises at my current job and actually have job security here because of my union membership. I do work in transportation, but most of my work is behind a desk.

Hope this helps, lasm
 

A2TwrOpr

Member
I'm a currently a tower operator but have experience as a conductor. The railroads are always short handed so being on the extra board is tiring work and you will certainly not have time to spend the money you make. Let alone see family or friends. I hired out when I was 21 and have been counting down the years ever since. Railroad rules and regulations are getting worse each year and where I work, the moral is in the crapper (system wide). Probably the biggest draw, for me, is the retirement and benefits. Very few companies can match the railroad so that's why I stay. It's a rather cynical opinion but it's true, at least for me.
 




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