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Eastern Railroad Discussion > What's it like to work for the railroad?


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Date: 01/05/12 05:50
What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: kurt765

What is it like to work for the railroad? A family member is contemplating a new future as an engineer or conductor. What is life like? I've heard of notions like:
- You can't plan days off really because you never know when you'll be working. You're essentially "on call" constantly, holidays included
- Seniority means you'll be working the worst trains (3rd shift) for a few years at least since others will pick up all the more favorable trains

Are these notions true?
Does it help to go to a conductor or engineer school?
Are railroads hiring?

I've always wondered myself (though there's no chance I'm leaving my current profession). My family grew up next to a major NS mainline and it imparted a lifelong fascination with trains in us.
Anyone with real world experience who can shed some light on this would be much appreciated. Thanks!

-K



Date: 01/05/12 05:56
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: a737flyer

Yes...



Date: 01/05/12 05:57
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: kurt765

Well that was certainly a helpful reply. Yes what



Date: 01/05/12 06:19
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: cashfare

You can make a great living and have a great retirement. But, the trade off is you have no life, lose your friends, and cannot plan anything. Your life really is the railroad. Job is best for single folks with no kids, nor having plans for family. With about 90% of railroaders divorced it would be wise to seriously think hard about it if you have a family. Imagine walking a 2 mile long train in the 100 degree heat, 0 degree cold, pouring rain or snow, then after being on the road 12 hours going home and being called right back after 10 hours. If you already have a decent job, I would strongly advise against it.



Date: 01/05/12 06:19
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: im_trainman

If you want to dedicate your life to something that will give you a nice paycheck, decent healthcare, and no personal life, the job is for you. You also gotta like being just a number, good at following rules to a T, and be able to stand the hottest of hot days, the coldest of the cold days, and snow and rain at the worst possible times and the darkest dark you can imagine, at night. Id suggest reading the "weirdest shift" post on the western board.

Posted from Android



Date: 01/05/12 07:21
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: tihess

Everytime someone asks "what's it like to work for the rr", we can always expect the numerous responses of "doom and gloom".

The truth is... it's not as bad as these folks make it out, but.... it aint all fun and joy either. It's somewhere in the middle. To work for the railroad, you have to be willing to "adjust" to a different kind of lifestyle. That doesn't mean it's terrible, it just means it's different. Yes, at the beginning of your career you will face job insecurity as you hover around the bottom of the seniority list. Yes, you will need to be on call 24/7, work outdoors in whatever the elements may be, and give up much of your social life. If these things scare you, then perhaps this isn't the career for you. But if you are already used to working outside, maybe have been on call with another career, and not afraid to work hard, it CAN be a lucrative and rewarding career.
Eventually, if you stick it out, you will move up in seniority and be able to hold better assignments with better off days. You will take a promotion to engineer, and after completion the only climate concerns of your work environment will be how much heat or AC you need in the locomotive cab.
Like I said, it is a different kind of lifestyle. It is not meant for everyone, but if it sounds like something you wish to try, then I say go for it! I'm beginning my 12th year and I enjoy my career very much. You have good days and bad days, there are ups and downs, as with any career, but don't be scared away by all the negativity that many railroaders love to dish out. All in all, it's a pretty good gig.



Date: 01/05/12 07:47
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: farmer

A few of the new hire conductors at North Baltimore have told me it was the best move they ever made.

Posted from Android



Date: 01/05/12 09:51
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: kurt765

So are you able to do some semi-normal things like plan a vacation? Do you get vacation time at all? Or are you truly on-call all year?



Date: 01/05/12 10:11
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: Nictd1000

Just about everything on the railroad is based on Seniority, job picks, vacation picks, etc..

Ryan



Date: 01/05/12 10:22
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: NSTopHat

kurt765 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> So are you able to do some semi-normal things like
> plan a vacation? Do you get vacation time at all?
> Or are you truly on-call all year?

I have several friends who work for both NS and CSX here in the Atlanta area. The guys who work non-scheduled trains, they are on call 24/7. Depending on seniority, they may or may not get vacation when they want it. They can "mark-off" but it is without pay. They guys I know who have been there a long time, i.e. longer than 25 years, have enough seniority to take the daily scheduled local jobs and they can take paid vacations whenever and get their daily job when they come back from vacation.

It's not an easy job nor is it one that is condusive to having a family.

NSTopHat



Date: 01/05/12 10:22
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: wmfan3798

One thing that people seem to forget is there are more departments on a railroad that just T&E. I have worked in MOW and car departments and loved it. My brother is an engineer and I wanted a good job but not sacrifice all my time to have it. Pay is good benefits are decent and I work a steady schedule with the same rest days every week.


ernie



Date: 01/05/12 10:31
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: bioyans

kurt765 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> So are you able to do some semi-normal things like
> plan a vacation? Do you get vacation time at all?
> Or are you truly on-call all year?

You get vacation time, but you are at the mercy of your seniority as to when you actually get it.

Vacation typically goes like this ...

1 year = 1 week
2 years = 2 weeks
8 years = 3 weeks
17 years = 4 weeks
25 years = 5 weeks

You don't find out what weeks you are assigned for the following year until early or mid December. Depending upon where you fall on the roster, you might spend your first few years stuck with weeks in January, February, or a non-holiday week in late fall or winter. For some, that's not a big deal. If you have kids and want to go on summer vacations with them, that could be a problem and require some creativity to pull off. All of us, at some point, have spent Thanksgiving, New Year's, Easter, and many other holidays away from home. Christmas is about the only holiday where the freight railroads make a token effort to suspend all but crucial operations and get people home.

The rest of the time you will be on call 24/7. Not just for months, but in some cases YEARS. I know of a location on Conrail where you once needed 20 YEARS of seniority to hold a brakeman's extra list during any time other than the summer. Believe it or not, third shift jobs often go higher in seniority than you would think. The extra list also tends to be "feast or famine." You are either working constantly, or you are sitting around for days and only making one or two timecards per week. Don't make any big purchases (car, house, expensive toys) your first few years, until after the threat of being furloughed is diminished.

After a while, you might hold as a conductor ... until it is your turn to go to engineer school. Then, you start the whole process again once you are promoted, because you are now at the bottom of the engineer's roster. Again, depending upon your location, you might spend five years clawing to hold a regular job as conductor, only to then go to engineer school and start all over again. I know of some newly promoted engineers who have about 7 years on the railroad (and can hold some good jobs as conductors) who are now stuck on an extra list ... and have so many engineers in front of them that they will likely spend the next decade on call, 24/7, until they can hold a regular job.

That's not doom and gloom ... that's reality.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/05/12 10:32 by bioyans.



Date: 01/05/12 10:44
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: NYC_L4a

cashfare Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> If you already have a
> decent job, I would strongly advise against it.

That's pretty much what a RR manager told us when a few of us attended a conductor hiring session for a major class 1 RR. A few of us attended right after working our midnight shifts at our present employer, which at the time was going through tough times where huge layoffs or even liquidation was a possibility. After their presentation was over, we stayed and talked privately with one of the representitives. I said we were better off staying where we were compared to hiring out with them right now, but that if we should lose our jobs at our present employer, then by all means hire on.



Date: 01/05/12 10:48
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: farmer

I agree being a signal or M&W employee is good position on railroad.

Posted from Android



Date: 01/05/12 10:54
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: Rathole

It did not take me long after going to work for the railroad that knew I didn't want to live by the phone the rest of my career, so after a visit to our dispatcher's office in North Little Rock, I threw my name in the hat to become a dispatcher. Though I no longer work for the UP system, I'm still a DS for another class I. It can be grueling at times, but after 8 hours it's over and I can go home free of the phone.



Date: 01/05/12 11:14
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: RF-NOCOM

Yes, It's not always doom and gloom. It depends on which company you hire out for. Most of them don't like prior experience in the way of a school. They want to teach you their way how to do things, because their way is the only right way. You will have to pay your dues when you are low on seniority. IF it's a big terminal it may only take you a few years to get a lot of seniority. If it is a small terminal it may take you a lot longer. Every terminal is different, every railroad is different. If a terminal has good jobs, assigned road trains, a large freight pool with days off etc. You may be able to hold them after a while. If you are close to a terminal that does not have good jobs, higher seniority from those terminals might drive hours to yours just to hold the good jobs, keeping you on the bottom. If you are in the smaller terminal you may choose to "chase the work" and hold jobs at other terminals during certain times of the year to make more money or even just to keep working. I have seen people drive over four hours just to work a better job. When you get promoted to Engineer, IF you are lucky enough to get a locomotive with working AC then you are set, but there are plenty of old conventionals out there that don't have AC or are sealed well enough to keep all the heat in at speed. It's not all doom and gloom but it's not going out and riding trains for fun every day either. You are there to do a job, and that's move freight, not to foam. There is a time and a place for everything. I am not saying the situations won't arise from time to time, you just have to know when is the appropriate time.


You are always going track speed with RF NOCOM !



Date: 01/05/12 12:24
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: underscore

it's what you make of it.

for the first 5 yrs or so i was pretty ticked about not having a 9 to 5 schedule. but then i thought of my dad worked 40 yrs as an electrician at a large factory. earned as much as i do, retired at 60, so i just figure now be happy as he was. i earned $93,000 last yr worked 1,801 hrs last yr for it with a hs education. unfortunaly the job comes first family second or maybe first???? because i decided to take this job and earn a good living. i have 16 yrs to retirement at that time i'll get at least $4,500 per mo. i can't do that anywhere else i know.



Date: 01/05/12 13:26
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: imrl

I went tom work for a regional in '99 and then to the UP in '02. I went to engine service in '04. If I was still on the ground, I could hold a daylight switch engine 10 minutes from my house with Friday/Saturday off. As an engineer, with the proliferation of remote control operations, I am the youngest engineer holding a switch engine in my seniority district, luckily still only 10 minutes from home but at 2230 with Mondays/Tuesday off. Holding a job in my current "zone" would get me March vacation, but went out to the road where I'm about in the middle seniority wise and it got me Semptember vacation which I could probably push back to late October.

I can't tell you how many dates I have missed, appointments I have had to reschedule, parties I have missed, and holidays that I have worked. The pay and benefits are good, and once you get some whiskers, the job security is excellent. It's not a job for everyone, but it can bea fun and exciting job. As others have pointed out, TY&E are not the only positions available. My girlfriend works for the BNSF in the general office building as an accounting clerk, and she absolutely loves it! She can earn about $46,000 a year. Me, on my yard job, can earn about $58,000. I could pull down $80,000 easy if not more if I stayed marked up on the road living by the phone 24/7. So, I guess, the railroad is what you can make of it.



Date: 01/05/12 14:02
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: ctillnc

People who won't or can't follow rules had better stay away from a railroad. Follow rules or you'll get run off. Follow rules or somebody will get hurt (or worse).



Date: 01/05/12 16:07
Re: What's it like to work for the railroad?
Author: im_trainman

I dont see anything that was said as doom and gloom, its just hard facts that anyone on the railroad for a year can attest to. I also agree with farmer, MoW isnt a bad spot, but i know for damn sure, when its 95 degrees out, id much rather be in a loco with ac, or atleast moving faster than 5 mph, getting some flow through air, but thats just me. When the economy nose dived, T&E employees were getting cut off left and right, whereas no MWS employees on NS missed a day, sure overtime was cut back, but checks were still whole, so its not that bad, but there are days when it sure could be better.

Posted from Android



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 01/05/12 16:10 by im_trainman.



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