Offered employment as a Conductor Trainee Primary Recall

Jyank Apr 14, 2012

  1. Jyank

    Jyank New Member

    Good Evening. This is my first post and I believe I am in the correct forum. I believe I have a unique situation and would like real world advice from others who have gone through this in the real world.

    First about myself. I am 26 years old, married with our first on the way. I have recently completed an Active Duty US Army obligation of 4 years, and am now a member of the Army National Guard. I have a college degree coupled with real world military leadership which required me to think, be responsible, and make decisions for the lives of my men in both garrison and combat situations.

    I have recently completed the conductor trainee(primary recall) hiring process (interviews, physicals, etc) and been offered employment for the said position. Most of the head hunters Ive spoken to agree that BNSF is a great opportunity that I would be foolish to pass up. I have been digging through both forums and web search engines for real life explanations, descriptions, and stories of this position. While certainly insightful, I have pointed questions I cannot find the answers to. I would be more than humbled to receive the advice and mentorship of others who may have completed this process.

    Firstly, the job offering is 14 hours from my current residence. To attend this training would require me to obviously relocate to the hosting city. While this in itself isn't overly taxing, I am faced with the distinct possibility of my National Guard Unit being 'volunteered' for a deployment to Afghanistan. As with all things military it isnt set in stone. However, if the more than likely becomes a reality I will be mobilized and on a plane to the middle east once again before my training would complete. My concern then becomes the issue of spending several thousand dollars to relocate for a training in which i will become terminated shortly after starting due to my National Guard unit being sent overseas. As BNSF is a military friendly organization, does anyone have any insight into what my best course of action would be? Would I be able to restart training after deployment or I would I be terminated immediately with no chance of rehire? If the termination is likely, would you recommend declining the employment in the first place in order to save the several thousand dollars it would take to move to the terminal?

    Secondly, most of the information I have gleaned regarding the job description vaguely outlines something akin to 'long hours, no set schedule, bad weather, bad for marriage'. While this is great, I haven't been able to get a good picture of what a typical work week would look like. The Army could be described with the following statement as well, but I was able to find a sense of normalcy (while home in the US at least) with my schedule once I got the hang of it. Is this similar to the conductor job? Pointedly how often are you gone from home in a week? What kind of hours would you put in?

    Third, I have recently come across this blog posting and I ask for an honest assement from you all that actually have gone through the hiring process and on to careers with BNSF.
    rochelletrainpark, so you want to work for the railroad blog jan2008
    While I am not nearly as pessimistic, I did note a few similarities at my own interview. While I didnt get a 'scare speech', is there an accuracy to the mentioned first year pay rate? Also, there were more than a few applicants who DID arrive in t shirts and jeans, with obscure haircuts and copious amounts of facial hair whom I would not trust to carry paperclips let alone operate a multi-ton locomotive killing machine. I would hope that the BNSF hiring process weeds out this kind of applicant. However, if it doesnt, I cant see BNSF in their right mind letting any of those applicants ever THINK, ACT, or make a decision while working as a train conductor. This coupled with the 'fire safety drill' leads me to believe this is true. Does BNSF train to the lowest common denominator, and will it generally be assumed that I fall into this prior category with the inability to act and think independently? I am more than willing to do my time with the company and I am not, and have never been afraid of hard work. Ive spent more than enough time in Iraq burning waste left in latrines, filling sandbags alongside my men etc. But as a Conductor Trainee is my intelligence going to be repeatedly questioned along side the idea that I may or may not have a fully functioning brain? I have a sizable reservation about going to work every day where it is generally assumed I am a 17 year old private with no real world experiences therefore unable to balance my own checkbook.

    Lastly, and forgive this lengthy post, what kind opportunities are there to advance in the company if one demonstrates the necessary qualities and desire?

    Again, my apologies for this lengthy essay. I have no idea where else to turn to. Any replies or advice is greatly appreciated.
  2. r_i_straw

    r_i_straw Mostly N Scale Staff Member

    Welcome to Trainboard. While I can not answer your questions about BNSF, there are a few members here who work or have worked for them in the past who may be able to. Good luck.
  3. ch3360

    ch3360 TrainBoard Member

    First, Thank you for your service to our country. I do not work in the rail industry but my suggestion is to take the job.... If its not something you like then apply for other jobs. At least you would be working in the meantime.
  4. Charlie

    Charlie TrainBoard Member

    Hello JYank1

    First of all, THANK YOU for your service to your nation and people!

    You've got a lot of questions going there, I'll try to answer them as best I can. Let me give you a short bio on me...

    I am a retired railroader off the BNSF(I was a promoted engineer). I am an Army veteran(Vietnam Era) but was not a career man. I served 3 yrs active and 3 yrs inactive reserve. I am married, the father of two(both adults) and the grandfather of one 8 y/o boy who is the light of our lives!
    Railroading was my 3rd and final career. It paid me the most money I ever made and the best benefits I ever had. It was also the easiest work I ever did. It was also the most challenging job I ever had and that includes the Army.

    I will now try to answer your questions. I will be quite blunt, I hope I wont offend you.

    The railroad does tend to hire military peoples as they know a chain of command and how to take instructions. You WILL work under the most extreme weather condition, during the most difficult hours of day or night. You WILL get soaking wet, freezing cold and likely suffer burns from bare skin coming in contact with extremely hot metal(RR cars sitting in hot sun act like a convection oven).

    The railroad is NOT family friendly, they don't care if you are married,have a sick wife or child or that you are tired from having worked an extremely fatiguing job on your previous assignment. You cannot
    predict your social life outside of your scheduled vacation, which will be at the most undesirable times of the year until you gain enough seniority. You WILL miss your kid's first steps, their first words,probably their birthdays,communions,confirmations,little league games,maybe a graduation or two. I was thisclose to not getting time off for my youngest daughter's wedding!
    I can't speak to the possibility of you being re-deployed but I believe your job is protected by law. Although I think if you are deployed BEFORE your probationary period is concluded, you will have to start off at "square one".
    As for the appearance of some of the people, consider the old addage "you can't judge a book by it's cover". What you will want to do is dress neatly, cleanly,with undamaged clothing. Polo or golf shirt and khakis are always good for an interview. I was invited to an "information/testing" session. I wore a sport coat, dress slacks, dress shirt and tie and I way WAAAAAAY overdressed and the personnel wonk made a comment about it. When I went for the interview, I dressed in business casual(like I detailed above). Many of the people I worked with could have put Grizzly Adams to shame, but they were among the nicest, most intelligent and best railroaders I ever worked with. If facial hair is part of your physical style, be sure it is neat,trimmed and clean. Dont have an extreme hair style, your military hairstyle is ideal. If it ain't on your driver's license, lose it!
    As for the company demeanor towards you...
    Well..... get used to that 17 y/o thing. That is how you will be treated. Whenever there is an "incident" on the railroad, YOU are ALWAYS guilty even when and if you are found guiltless. That incident will follow you wherever you go. NEVER,NEVER,NEVER do recreational drugs. If you drink alcohol, make sure you have about 12hrs to get it out of your system. If you smoke, good luck! Railroads are "NON-SMOKING" everywhere, usually you can light up outside the building or in the parking lot. If you smoke on the property, you will be hounded every minute you are there.
    Railroading is probably the only job where they will spend tens of thousands of dollars to train you only to spend even more time and money trying to find a reason to fire you. That isn't hyperbole, ask any operating department railroader.
    You normally work under very little supervision, in the yard there is generally more exposure to supervisors, but out on the road you don't encounter any officials unless there is an "incident" or you are being ops tested or someone is "check riding" with you. Otherwise the carrier expects you to act like an adult and make intelligent and informed decisions concerning the tens of millions of dollars worth of equipment and customer's goods that are in your charge.
    If you are on a road freight, expect to be gone 2-4 days at a crack. I have been deadheaded to an "away from home terminal(AFHT)" laid their and waited for more than 22 hours and wound up being deadheaded back home. On pool freights,(which was VERY SELDOM) I would normally go out one night and get a return train the following night. Yard jobs are normally 8 hours and some have regular days off...they are also held by people with more seniority than you! Road switchers(locals)go 8 - 12 hours 5-6-7 days a week. You can make money on those,but you never see your family.
    Your wife will have to be VERY understanding. You WILL be away from home a LOT. Your wife will answer the phone at 2AM and a female voice will ask to speak to you. That is the crew caller telling you to report for duty for a junk freight 1 1/2 hours from now. That woman is making you go to work while no amount of pleading from your wife(the kids are sick,I am sick etc)can make you stay home.
    Yessir! Your wife must be REALLY understanding, Oh! lest I forget, that same female voice will call your home wanting you to go to work and your wife tells her that you are already at work! Yessiree!
    Your wife will have to be REALLLLLLLY understanding! Don't laugh! It's happened to me and just about every other railroader. Crew callers DO make mistakes!
    I think I've just about exhausted my memory bank.
    If you wan't we can chat more b/c. I have a p/t job at a nearby suburban hardware store but I am online at least twice a day.
    Hope this helps with your decision. The rest is up to you

    BNSF (ret.)
    Aurora IL
  5. jhn_plsn

    jhn_plsn TrainBoard Supporter

    Charlie, do you have any info on the first years pay, and at what point does the income start to increase?

    I have been considering a job change too and live near two major yards, UP and BNSF. I figure since my young adult child and high school sophomore are both somewhat independent I could now work a challenging schedule without disrupting their lives to much.
  6. OC Engineer JD

    OC Engineer JD Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Charlie pretty much got it all corect. John, pay your first year for Class 1 would be around 30,000-50,000 depending on how much they call you. After training you go to 75% of regular pay, next year 80%, next year 85%....etc. Now remember this, if you are layed off and dont work a full year, you come back the next year at the % rate you were at before. You advance after a completed year.
    Railroading is not just a job to support your family, its a way of life, a profession like no other, and it takes 24hrs of your life for 15yrs or so, which is about the time it will take to be able to maybe hold a regular job. The most important thing Charlie said is you better have a very understanding wife. My first one was not, the one I am married to now is. :)
  7. gregamer

    gregamer TrainBoard Supporter


    I am a Locomotive Engineer at BNSF in Seattle. I have worked there 9 years and been an engineer for 6 years. I love the job and most of the people I work with do too.

    BNSF does hire tons of veterans as well as many still serving in the guard and reserve. Deployments are fairly common. I cannot speak to any probationary exceptions to deployment, so you should probably get an answer from an HR representative. I can relate a couple deployment stories: 1. A fellow conductor was deployed to Iraq after being accepted to engineer school. He wasn't able to start the training before deployment, but his seniority position as an engineer was held as if he had already completed training. 2. Another fellow engineer decided to join the Army after working for BNSF a couple of years. He went active duty and was absent from work for four years, he returned with his conductor seniority intact. The other thing I know about deployment from others who have been deployed is that you do not accumulate vacation or retirement credit during those periods, because these are based on time worked.

    Conductor training will also qualify you to work as a brakeman, a switch foreman, a switch helper and probably a remote control locomotive operator and possibly a hostler. These are all trainman jobs.

    In my area (Seattle, Tacoma, Everett) most people start off working a switchman's yard extra board. These are local jobs usually 7-12 hours. As a yard extra board person you are on call during calling hours three times a day. These are mostly outdoor jobs, you'll be out in the weather for 2-5 hours at a stretch. You do get a lunch break, and often a coffee break. As your seniority increases you'll be able to hold better and better yard jobs with regular schedules.

    Some jobs require quite a bit of decision making and autonomy. A switch foreman or road switch conductor may be responsible for contacting customers, arranging delivery times, determining what work needs to be done, and directing the crew. There are some jobs that the management couldn't even begin to tell you how to do them, and they rely heavily on the crews to supervise themselves and get it done.

    Road Pool jobs are the city to city long haul jobs. You spend a lot of time away from home but you are paid handsomely for it. You'll be on call. This is generally indoor work, you spend most of your workday in the cab of a locomotive. It's a highly mental job. There is quite a bit of analysis and quick thinking required. Mostly you need to able to recognize changing conditions and using your head to determine which rules apply. Being a good conductor is a difficult job, because you really need to have encyclopedic knowledge and decide what training to apply and when to apply it.

    I'd also argue that BNSF hires a lot of veterans because they know that we've been trained to think on our own. We've been trained to lead.

    Pay is so convoluted it's almost impossible to figure out what you'll be making until you establish a little seniority. I work with people that make anywhere from $45K to $125K. It depends on if you are getting a training wage and if it applies. If you're working overtime, what job you are working, if you get a lot of penalty pay claims.

    Also, there is tons of opportunity for advancement as an engineer, a yardmaster, or into management.

    Sorry if I'm all over the map, but what I really wanted to convey that it's a challenging and rewarding job. It can be stressful and can stress your family, but if you stick it out it gets better (usually a lot faster than you imagined). BNSF is military friendly and deployment friendly but check with HR for any probationary exceptions. Like any job of some people complain about the job, but most take pride in what they do and have a good time.
  8. Charlie

    Charlie TrainBoard Member

    Another thing too, If you have a terminal with a lot of different types of jobs, you'll have to be qualified all over the spectrum.
    Being in the Chicago Terminal zone, I was qualified as conductor,brakeman,switchman,switch foreman,hostler and commuter trainman. After completing the "program"(engineer training) I was qualified in both freight and passenger service. Much of my trainman service was in commuter service. Other than the pool freights,(which I couldn't hold anyway)it was the best payer. The working conditions were a heckuva lot better. Yeah, you had to wear a uniform, but you were never in doubt of what to wear to work. You also weren't outside in the gawdawful weather except at stations when you had to decorate the platform. The coaches were air-conditioned in summer and well heated in the winter. There was no 3rd shift for operating dep't employees in suburban service.
    My previous employment was mostly in public contact work so it was no big deal for me.
    I want highlight a previous poster in re: salary. My first full year on the railroad, I doubled my salary of my previous employer AND I was on the graded % scale. How many people can change jobs and double their salary? Your college education is a plus, but depending on what your major was, it may or may not help you in advancement. Railroads tend to want you to have some background railroading before you advance to higher levels. Operating dep't. employees are sometimes caught in a revolving door syndrome. You're a trainmaster, screw up once and you're out, if you're lucky you'll be allowed to exercise your prior craft seniority. That's not a guarantee! Company officials have no friends except for other company officials, if even then. Your brother can be a grunt trainman and once you become an official, he wont talk to you again! MY buddy Bob's son has a pre-law degree from a LARGE
    midwestern university. Bob Jr. hired on as a grunt, liked the job,made decent money and worked on up into the Claims Dept. Dunno what he's doing now. There is room for advancement but it's best to know just what a railroad is first.
    All the other posters have given some spot-on advice. Hope it works well for you!

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