Re: Is railroading a career path?
Date: 11-12-2023 - 13:58
Author: Bob Yarger
Date: 11-26-2006 - 12:40
There are really no set answers to the above questions. In nearly 30 years, I've never seen the railroads do much that would make sense in the outside business world. Sometimes that's bad and sometimes good. Often their stupidity fills one's pockets nicely, at least on union railroads.
Quite often, they hire in big bunches, then lay off soon after the new class is marked up. Sometimes they're helpful in relocating and sometimes not, again totally unpredictable. One thing they seem to have curtailed a bit is hiring strictly by nepotism. Years ago, if you didn't have a relative working there or know someone important, you didn't have a chance of being hired. Graduates of a RR school should not have a problem.
Railroad life is not for everyone and there is a lot of turnover among new hires. On the extra board (where you'll be if hired in train service - possibly for years) you're only guaranteed 5-7 hours off from the time you mark off until the time you can be called, assuming you have a 3 hour call (8 hours rest after a shift of less than 12 hours, 10 hours rest after 12). Some of my friends stuck on the board barely have their head hit the pillow before the phone rings. I think some RRs now have a guaranteed day off for extra board employees (mine doesn't).
The work can be brutal, such as midnight yard jobs at -20F, and working in the rain is awful also. Engineer jobs are much better, both physically and financially, but as the hiring crisis is ebbing, it might be years before you got an engineer's license, and then might spend the rest of your career on the engineers extra board.
The mechanical crafts (machinist, carman, laborer, etc.) may have bad days off and shifts, but they do have days off. Pay for a journeyman is usually around $20 an hour, starting at 75%, increasing 5% a year. That work can be very dirty, but it didn't bother me in the 21 years I did it. Maintenance of way workers usually have weekends off when not working on special chain gang projects, but that work can be especially brutal and the pay is lower.
As an aside, the Canadian roads have much better contracts than the American RRs, with better pay and benefits, and retirement at 55. I would not consider non-union shortlines unless you consider it a steppingstone to a real job. Better to hire on with the big one first, as seniority is everything - the more you have of it the happier you'll be.
If you can put up with the lifestyle, the money is good and there is usually good comradeship. It is fairly hard to get fired if you show up on time and do as you're told. The RR Retirement pension is excellent, and no crooked CEO can abscond with it like they often do with private pensions.
If time off and family are important, train service is not for you. To me, being a union worker, with access to due process and equal pay with my fellow workers is very important, which is why I could not stand the brownnosing and backstabbing that went on when a scab company took over the RR I had worked 17 years on. I've been at my present conductor's job for seven years, with just 20 months to go and have been treated well, probably because I work for a Canadian company (though in the US).
Hope this helps.