Nov 4, 2005
<<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.>>
I was 52 yrs old when I first signed on with
the BNSF. They sent me to NARS at their expense. The stipulation was that I had to
pass the conductors qualifying exam and the
60 day probation period before being officially
hired. I was paid a student stipend and small
expenses while at the NARS. Since I received
compensation from the carrier, my seniority date was the date I officially began class at
I still suggest trying to work directly with the
carriers. BNSF will train you "on site" for the
conductor/brakeman/switchman position with
the stipulation of passing the conductors qualifying exam at the end of your training.
In regards to your statement re: your interview with AMTRAK, I have had a 1st person present tense involvement with a
trespasser fatality. I was a conductor on a
high priority intermodal train from Chicago(Cicero yard)to LaCrosse WI several years back. It was about 02:30 on a warm June
morning, we were at track speed(50mph) when suddenly a figure popped up into the
headlight glare and walked right into the path
of our train just to the west of the Naperville,
IL commuter station. The hogger reacted by
placing the train in emergency and when we
finally stopped, I got down to track level and
inspected my train until I found the body.
I found the body about halfway down the length of the train, we had dragged/rolled the
body about 1/2 mile before the train came to
a complete stop. I was to learn later it was a 24 year old woman with a history of attempted suicide. She had apparently been
hiding in the shadows. The railroad "bulls" found a bottle of wine and a glass where they believed her to be hiding. She apparenly had
a drink or two to help her accomplish her
grisly task. It was not a fun time. We were relieved on the spot and debriefed by a company officer. There were never any repercussions or feedback to this day.
That must have been a really rough experience. You did everything within your power to stop, but she was determined, and knew there was no way that much weight could be stopped in time. Really selfish of her...she got what she wanted, and left you to deal with the gruesome memory of it.
On a lighter note, it's encouraging to hear that you were 52 when you were hired. What kind of work had you been doing up to that point? I'm continuing to apply for every Conductor Trainee posting BNSF puts up, regardless of where in the country it is. In the last two weeks or so, I've applied for at least 16. Since then I've already received 9 rejection e-mails. Oh well, I keep plugging away.
I've also applied with RailAmerica, and plan to apply to a couple of postings with UP this weekend. UP's process is a lot more time consuming than BNSF's. With BNSF, you fill out the on-line application one time, then can apply for as many postings as you like simply by logging in and answering a few standard questions. UP makes you fill out the entire on-line application each time you apply for a posting. That takes awhile!
Thanks again for all the insight Charlie, it's very helpful!
I assume a college education in any degree would be a plus?
A/ You are quite welcome Vagabond and keep
trying! If you are determined that what you want is a railroad job. just keep persevering!
I went through the same thing you did, constantly sending out resumes and follow-ups. What triggered my hiring process however
was by answering a help wanted ad in the
Chicago Sunday Tribune. This was in mid-June
of 1996, on August 11 I was on a plane to KC
to start my training.
A degree or any level of college education would help.
Do not hesitate to "blow your own horn", but
DO NOT lie about your qualificationsl. The railroad WILL ask you prove your qualifications and claims.
The BNSF was the only employer(I have not
had many)who ever asked me to prove my
qualifications. I had to produce my DD-214
(proof of military service)and my college transcripts.
Please permit me to relate a humourous(to me at any rate)tidbit to the group.
When I was in my quest for a railroad job I actually got to the interview stage with AMTRAK. They were hiring part-time reservation agents. I wasn't too thrilled about
the "part-time" scenario, but I wanted to "get
my foot in the door" and then work my way into the Operating Department.
At that time I was working as a travel agent,
and unabashedly I admit I was damn good and
that was the opinion not only of myself but
my clients AND my employer.
At any rate I was invited to an interview,this after taking the pre-employment testing session.
The interview panel was 2 women and 1 man
and was inter-racial in makeup.
Now remember.... this was for a "part- time reservation agent" job, and I was already a
successful FULL TIME commercial travel agent!
and this information as well as my previous
airline experience was contained in the employment application which each interviewer had a copy of!...
I was asked the following question by one of
"What makes you think that you can perform
this job?" (as a p/t res.agent)
I guess I must have looked at them incredulously and then I blurted out...
"Because I am already doing that job!"
Well, all three of them sort of looked about as
if they were trying to find any hidden cracks in the table and that pretty much ended the interview.
At any rate I received a rejection letter a few
days later. I dont believe it was for my candor,
but for reasons which I chose not to discuss
in an open forum.
Interesting story Charlie.
See tomorrow's Sunday Dilbert (which will not be released until tomorrow) to see a funny job interview.
One good possibility, is you proved yourself of far superior intellect to that of the interview panel......
This is a hard job no disagrement there. I am currently working a road job into the Rowder River Basin. Mostly coal drags, and this is the only job I have ever had that I get paid big bucks for doing almost nothing. (ha ha)
A couple of things I wanted to expand on about this job. One time off, depends on the local union agrements and how fast the boards are turning. I work a 7 and 3 board. Work 7 get 3 off. But if things are slow I have had 40 to 50 hours off between runs, I have also just had almost a week of getting called out on my rest. Going to work 8 hours after I got off.
Two Railroaders have the second highest divorce rate in the US (cops being #1), so make sure your wife/family understands the job and is willing.
Three, senority will come fast, the old heads are retiring rapidly.
And last, old head rarely say anything good about the railroad or railroad life, because they have forgoten how hard real life is.
It is not a job for everyone, but it is a good job.
The biggest drawback I see for myself with all of this may be the time away from home. By the time I am done with the Army (will retire in about 10 years), I am not sure that I would want to continue the challenge to home life for say another 20 years. I am now 34 years old and I still have no clue what I want to be when I grow up
Is this a hard job to get into when one is in ther 40's?
In my conductor class of 12 people I was the second youngest at 26 years old. Most of the guys were in their mid 30's and a couple in their 40's. One of the guy was in your shoes, 20 years in the Army. I think we are seeing more middle age (no offence meant) people starting on the railroad. I also know that BNSF look for ex-millitary to hire and has some perferance to ex-millitary. I assume other Class 1's do also.
Originaly posted by Adam Woods:
Hmmm, I guess railroading isn't real life. You have a surprise coming brother! Make a mistake and they will put real life on your plate real quick! You WILL see. Ohh! and you may not want to advertise that you do nothing! If I were you I'd be fearing the next contract... (Edited). I shouldn't be so harsh, I once thought the same thing.
[ December 27, 2005, 06:09 AM: Message edited by: Don Rickle ]
It would be prudent, when asking about life on the RR, to know how long one has been gainfully employed by the RR.................
I used to get so frustrated at work (for the airlines) I could hardly stand to leave home. And that was to go from the USA to some nice destination like Sydney, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, etc. OTOH, if I could get away from supervisors and just fly with the crew and do my job, then it was better. Still, towards the end, even that was hard, sometimes.
Those mean old bad company guys never did bounce a check, though. I guess you have to decide if it is worth it. Today, I probably would accept less money at another job so I could be home more. But, back then, I did want the money and I wanted to fly more than that.
My discussion above is a train/airline comparison. My father was a dentist; had his own business (and was the only dentist in town). Still, he stopped working and went fishing as soon as he was financially able to do so. I expect other professions have similar views. It is good to do something you want to do. Make your self happy!
A few other things to ponder...
The "old head" railroaders all come from a background of 4 or 5 man crews on a freight train. If someone was sick or still buzzed, someone else would pick up the slack. Take a look at any road caboose. They were pretty
comfortable conveyances. Had matresses and stoves,lockers,"john", heat,lights, the whole 9 yards.
Nowadays you have a 2 man crew and both
of you are in the locomotive cab. Some trains wil carry a brakeman, but not a lot of them.
That is 3 people in a cramped locomotive cab.
On a two person crew, if you have to make a set out or pick-up, it is one person, the conductor, against the weather and the elements to do the work singlehandedly. Just wait until you have to dig switch and/or switch point locks out of deep snow, sweep out the switches, set handbrakes on icy cars, ride a shove through blowing snow,hanging on for your life with one hand, a lantern and a radio in the other. God forbid you hit someone or something, then you have to decorate the ballast and go locate the remains,if you can!
When you are on a long haul freight in the wee,wee hours of the AM(or whenever)
you better make damn sure you stay awake.
I can't begin to tell you how often I've glanced
over to my hogger and caught him nodding off.
If you're the hogger, you better make damn sure you can stay awake, and that you are working with a conductor who knows what he
is doing. Someone who can set out a car without it going on the ground, a person who is willing to sit in the hoggers seat for a moment while you go to the "head".
It's usually easy enough work, but the few occasions when "Murphy's Laws" kick in, all the
good times get erased in a heartbeat.
You sort of dread the days when things seem to be going well, cuz you know something is about to happen.
I dont regret doing what I did, but I sure have
gotten a different outlook about railroading.
I thought I met a lot of "characters" when I was in the Army, but I met just as many "characters" on the railroad.
That is allot of good information. The actual job hardships dont bother me much. It is the potential time away from home that has me second guessing this as a future career.
Cabooses weren't as glamorous as they seem.Just ask some of the old head conductors who's ribs got broke when the slack came in and out or the train went into emergency.The only reason they had beds and bathrooms was that is where the conductor and brakeman stayed when on the other end of the road.A lot of the conductors really decked out their caboose due to the fact it was their home away from home.It is kind of funny to think what a caboose would have on it now a days if we didn't have EOT's.....
Flat Panel Tv, DVD, Stero, Microwave, etc etc.