Engineers operate locomotives in passenger, freight, or yard service. Passenger trains run on tight schedules, and it is the engineer's job to reach each station on time. If the train is delayed by red signals or for other reasons, he or she tries to make up for lost time without sacrificing safety.
Freight engineers pilot freight trains, which may be either fast freights operating on set schedules or local freights that pick up and drop cars at way stations. They, too, operate according to a schedule but are not necessarily held to it because the number of cars to be switched varies from day to day.
Yard engineers who run the switching engines make up trains by sorting out cars and pulling or pushing them to the tracks where they will be coupled together to form new trains.
Brake operators ride on the trains, one in the caboose with the conductor, the other up in front in the cab with the engineer. In the old days before the air brake was invented, brakemen were what their name implies. They operated the hand brakes on freight and passenger cars on a signal from the engineer. It was dangerous work, running back and forth on top of swaying freight cars in icy or snowy weather. It is still dangerous because when a freight train approaches a siding to pick up or drop cars, the brake operator jumps off the engine and runs ahead to set the switches.
The brake operator also couples and uncouples cars at terminals, stations, and sidings. In the yards the brake operator couples and uncouples cars, and throws switches. He or she often climbs up a car to ride with it and control its speed with the hand brake as it rolls down an incline to be joined with a series of cars that are being made up into a train.
Brake operators on passenger trains have it much easier. They watch over the operation of the cars and their equipment. They also use flags and flares to protect the train from a rear end collision whenever the train is forced to make an unscheduled stop.
Conductors are in charge of trains, whether passenger, freight, or yard. The yard conductors supervise the workers and make up trains.
Most train crew members do not have a regular five-day week. Railroad assignments are made on the basis of seniority. The more years you have worked, the more you have to say about when you want to work. New employees may be on call twenty-four hours a day, never knowing when they will be called to report for duty.
Those employed in the office, the shops, and out on the tracks usually have regular shifts. During the snow months section gangs may work overtime clearing the switches and tracks. In the event of an accident or other emergency, they may be called out to work nights and weekends.
Education and Training
A high school diploma is the minimum educational requirement for the majority of railroad jobs. One of the best things about railroading is that in most assignments you learn on the job and may be taught by a skilled worker.
For the jobs in the maintenance and transportation division, some railroads seek trained applicants. Others train you on the job, depending on the position.
Conductors are chosen from the ranks of brake operators. Engineers may serve first as engineers' helpers to obtain training, and then take substitute assignments as engineers. Engineers must have sufficient knowledge of train service rules to pass an examination on the operation of diesel or electric locomotives.
To qualify for their jobs, conductors, brake operators, and engineers must be able to pass examinations showing that they have satisfactory hearing, eyesight, and color vision, and the ability to exercise good judgment. Once employed in these positions they must be able to pass periodic physical exams.
Perhaps a sign of a brighter future for railroads and all transportation was an advertisement of CSX Corporation, "the company that puts things in motion," which employed 60,000, including the Chassis System and the Seaboard System. The full-page advertisement showed a tugboat pulling several barges beneath which was, a large headline reading: "Watching One of Our Trains Go By." In smaller type, at the bottom of the advertisement, the following copy appeared:
If you think we're just a railroad, take another look.
We're a lot more. We're American Commercial Barge Lines, the country's largest inland waterway transportation company.
That's not all. We're also container ships, trucks, pipelines, energy resources, fiber optics, resorts and property development and of course, the railroad. And we're developing new technology to make it all work together.
We're CSX, the first true global transporter. If you've never heard of one before, it's because there's never been one before. This is a company on the move.
After many discouraging years, Amtrak, Conrail, and the stock-holder-owned freight carriers are experiencing a new burst of business and optimism. Once threatened by the trucking industry and its use of the interstate highway system, railroads have displayed imagination and instituted innovative programs to recapture or keep their share of the nation's passenger and freight business.