Train Conductor

ProudPilot

Aeronautics Geek
Well, I have an interview on Monday for a train conductor job with BNSF. Pays 41K+ the first year and once you upgrade to engineer (think FO = conductor, captain = engineer) pay goes from 75K to 175K a year. I don't think it's a long term plan as it doesn't require quite as much thought as flying, but it would get me back on my feet after 3 years of CFI pay.

Has anyone made this switch before. Does anyone enjoy it?
 

Beech driver

Well-Known Member
I can't help you too much here.

But, I would be interested to see how that goes for you.
I have thought about going that route myself a time or two.
 

BeRich

Very Special Agent
Keep us updated for sure! 175k? That's pretty surprisingly high actually...how long does it take to upgrade?
 

Apophis

Resident Iconoclast
Well, I have an interview on Monday for a train conductor job with BNSF. Pays 41K+ the first year and once you upgrade to engineer (think FO = conductor, captain = engineer) pay goes from 75K to 175K a year. I don't think it's a long term plan as it doesn't require quite as much thought as flying, but it would get me back on my feet after 3 years of CFI pay.

Has anyone made this switch before. Does anyone enjoy it?
I've considered doing this as well. Did you have any prior experience with railroads that helped you get the interview? Did your aviation experience help get your foot in the door? I'm just wondering as I've contemplated making a switch at least temporarily, and both career fields are somewhat similar.
 

HeyEng

NAHB Doesn't Give a Crap
Not to plug another site, but check this out:

http://www.railroad.net/forums/viewforum.php?f=2

I have a good friend that has worked for CSX for about 17 years. The pay is good, but QOL is questionable (usually on a 2 hour call out pretty much 24/7) and they tend to have quite a few furloughs...just like the airlines. It used to be one of the "choice" jobs for retiring AF flight engineers, but it has fallen out of favor in the last few years due to the frequent moves, QOL, and the furloughs.
 

Apophis

Resident Iconoclast
Not to plug another site, but check this out:

http://www.railroad.net/forums/viewforum.php?f=2

I have a good friend that has worked for CSX for about 17 years. The pay is good, but QOL is questionable (usually on a 2 hour call out pretty much 24/7) and they tend to have quite a few furloughs...just like the airlines. It used to be one of the "choice" jobs for retiring AF flight engineers, but it has fallen out of favor in the last few years due to the frequent moves, QOL, and the furloughs.
How do you think it would compare with a typical regional airline gig? Seems like the QOL would be at least the same as many regionals, maybe a little bit better? The starting pay certainly seems to be better than a regional.

I'll check out that link too.
 

Douglas

Old School KSUX
I thought about going this route and my buddy in Wichita (who can't find a flying job to save his life there) is also looking into it.

Keep us posted if you do jump into it.
 

Phantom017

Up up and awaaaaayyy!
Well, I have an interview on Monday for a train conductor job with BNSF. Pays 41K+ the first year and once you upgrade to engineer (think FO = conductor, captain = engineer) pay goes from 75K to 175K a year. I don't think it's a long term plan as it doesn't require quite as much thought as flying, but it would get me back on my feet after 3 years of CFI pay.

Has anyone made this switch before. Does anyone enjoy it?
Weird your the 2nd person I've heard of going from a CFI job to working on the rail road.... all the live long day :p You werent just working in Michigan CFI'in were ya?
 

dasleben

That's just, like, your opinion, man
I've seen a few friends of mine decide to leave aviation for a while to go make money elsewhere in another field. Not one of them has come back. They'd love to, but can't. No currency, very few hours. One guy spent his time selling cars instead of building flight time. Sure, he's made decent money, but he's still got 250 hours and no prospects.

Ask yourself before you do this: Do you want to fly airplanes for a living, or drive trains? Once you leave, it's going to be very tough to come back.
 

ProudPilot

Aeronautics Geek
Well I read a lot on railroad.net and a few airline pilots that have done it. There are new rest requirements, as the railroad rules (still CFR14) are also written in blood.

Basically you have a mandatory UNDISTURBED 24 rest after any 5 days working and a mandatory UNDISTURBED 48 hour rest after any 6 days. If they call you on the phone at 47 hrs 55 minutes into your 48 hour rest, you get ANOTHER 48 hour rest, starting from when they call you. The maximum duty day is 12 hours, that's from show up, to off the rails. From there you get a mandatory 10 hours of UNDISTURBED rest. If they get you off late, say you've been on for 14 hours, then you get your rest, plus any time that you went over. So in this case 14-12=2+10=12 hours of rest.

Usually, they have you work 5 days on with 2 days off. 12 hour days each day blocked. Pay is variable, sometimes it's hourly sometimes by route. If you get a route, it doesn't matter how fast or long you take. Say the route is 300 miles, and the plan is for 6 hours. You get paid for that whether it takes you 4 hours or 12. There are generally bonus pays for bad weather, such as track closure, slowed down, or maintenance issues, as usually you have to deal with them, alone.

The conductor is the one who walks the train at a stop and unhooks cars, and then directs the engineer what to do with the locomotive. It's a lot of walking in the cold or heat. Once engineers retire (there's a lot of them retiring as well) then you can choose to upgrade to engineer. Which is a bit like a ground school for trains. It lasts 4-6 months and you get paid to do it.

Pay works out to around a guarantee of around 38K for the first year with the average being 41-45K. Then it gets up to around 68K a year for a conductor. An engineer goes for around 75K starting up to around 175K a year. Full benefits and full pension. You are on call, but you have the mandatory rest periods. I have no idea about vacation times, I'm checking into those.

Usually you can bid, just like the airlines, for routes. Some stay in the yard all day, some are on the lines heading out. Most will have you head out 3 days, and then back 3 days for a 48 hour rest. Some are out and back in a day. Some are all over the place, depends on what you like.

If you can work the ramp, you can do this job. If you stay for 30 years, or 10 years and at age 60, then you get a pension, 100% of your salary until the day you die. Some railroads it's 150% of your lifetime average pay.

I'm applying for BNSF, which has the highest pay, think the Ethiad of railroads. Just so happens I applied on a whim. Basically read through this:

Interview process http://www.railroad.net/articles/columns/hottimes/hottimes_20060602.php

Hours of Service (duty time) http://www.railroad.net/articles/columns/hottimes/hottimes_20100814.php

I'm thinking of doing this for 2-3 years. Make some money, buy a house, start a family. I want to head back to grad school, but I have a buttload of debt. So, I can start to pay that down, get a little more stable, and take as many classes online as I can. There is a lot of time sitting on the line without moving. So I have time to study. I'll let you know how it goes. 6 interviews in the last 2 years, not a single other job so far. We'll see.
 

Apophis

Resident Iconoclast
Thanks for the info, keep us posted as I'm very curious to see how things work out for you!
 

Orange Anchor

New Member
I did a piece a long while back on trains in ATL, a city built by trains. I was told you basically are ON the schedule unless you take yourself OFF the schedule. You bid a run (ATL to Greenville or ATL to Birmingham for example) and you gain seniority on that route. Change routes and you go to the bottom of that route.
A train is dispatched much like an airplane. You get paperwork telling you what engines you have (they were rated in amps and like airplanes you can pull max amps for 5 minutes like on takeoff and then you have to back off). I was told generally there are 25 cars per engine. You also get a list of what the cars are carrying and the train make-up will dictate some speed limits. "pig trains' (piggy-backs) are generally the fastest and hazmat trains can be restricted. Like NOTAMs you will get a list of the track conditions which vary with season. Heavy rains may undermine the rail bed, heat may weaken the rails, workers may be in the area, etc.

For the engineers there are simulators for events such as runaway trains or problems with the generators. The big diesel engines are only there to power the electric trucks so the electric trains you played with are just a smaller scale of the big ones. And then you have to learn the lay of the land. Take a 100 car train. There is a bit of slack in the couplers and what you want to do is stretch out the train. If you slow to quickly you will compress the train and the impact increases down the line. Likewise, going up a hill you have to stretch out the train and if you do it too quickly, you can 'break a knuckle' and the train separates. The engineer who breaks a knuckle gets to replace it.

Again, this was a while back but if you think pilots are deaf from noisy cockpits, try train engineers and conductors. Good noise canceling equipment is a MUST. Get into the cab of a train and have them blow the horn to get an idea. If you can still see afterwards, good.

The railroads were and I imagine now still very safety conscious and I was told there are 3 rules you NEVER violate. Never speed. The results of going faster than the posted speed can be extremely costly. Booze and drugs are a big no-no and never 'belly off' a train. You always face into the train to come down the ladder.

One of the things the conductor did on the ride I made was to walk the train. He had a steel rod and banged on each wheel to check for soundness. Also as the wheels wear they have a different sound when struck.

I thought it was a good time but the engineer said after a few years of the same route, you get to know every inch of the trip. Funny though.. people still wave at trains. And people still try to beat trains through the crossings. Never a good idea.

This has been on the forum before but still a great video of what wx can do to things. [YT]4eXyjqGC_1o[/YT]
 

Inverted25

Well-Known Member
If you can work the ramp, you can do this job. If you stay for 30 years, or 10 years and at age 60, then you get a pension, 100% of your salary until the day you die. Some railroads it's 150% of your lifetime average pay
We have a guy who flies at our glider airport who is retired from the railroads. He owned a Piper Geronimo that had Q-tip propellers. When he turned 80 he sold it to Premier Flight Academy and it is now based at Akron Fulton. He seemed to like his job alot and recomends it to all the young guys who want to be pilots.
 

Apophis

Resident Iconoclast
That was a very informative post, OrangeAnchor. Thanks. I'm really enjoying all the insight being provided in this thread; especially being someone who may jump ship at least temporarily.
 

Orange Anchor

New Member
That was a very informative post, OrangeAnchor. Thanks. I'm really enjoying all the insight being provided in this thread; especially being someone who may jump ship at least temporarily.
No problem. Funny but I didn't realize the train wheels could sort of go 'flat' and have to be replaced. If you look at the wheels you will see the flat edge that rests on the rail and then the flange. That flange wears and after a while there is too much movement and the wheels have to be pulled. Not exactly like pulling your Toyota over to change a tire.

Also didn't realize that engines were rated in amps. All engines are on the line to get the train started but once the train is moving they can knock one or two or even three engines on a 4 engine train off the line and those engines idle. Only one engine is pulling the train. As the incline increases or the need for power increases, engines come back on line to provide power. And then to brake, they change the polarity. Brakes are used only at very low speeds as you can imagine.

Like I said, the trip was a long time ago and like the airlines, each company has it's characters. One of the guys I met was nicknamed 'Buttermilk' after his affinity for that juice and he was restricted to just yard duty, making up trains which was an interesting (the 'hump yards'). But he said that during WWII with the steam locomotives it was nothing to get over 80-90mph and that a steam engine would just go faster and faster until it started throwing parts. Buttermilk had had too many speeding tickets from the company so he worked just in the yard which he said at his age was just fine. No overnights. Again.. sort of like the airlines.
 

Stomp16

You mean Shennanigans?!?!
I have an uncle who works for UP and runs coal trains between the WY coal mines and Western NE. The first year he did it he was NEVER home. Always on call and always traveling either to or from work. The pay is good but he says it's boring as hell. He sees the same thing on each trip because of course it's always the same route. It's good for a paycheck, but he absolutely hates his pager. Good thing though is that they have a killer retirement.
 

Apophis

Resident Iconoclast
Yeah, I can definitely see how the job could become monotonous after awhile. Even the most repetitive airline routes have at least some variation to them; following the same set of tracks over and over again not so much....
 

bankspower

Well-Known Member
After just coming back from working out in the Bakken/Three Forks oil patch for the past 2.5 years I can say its tough to get back into a flying job. However, I did, and I'm sure you could too. What's tougher is going from making 80-90k in the patch to putting the necktie back on to make 25K. I can however tell you that grinding it out at a working class job for 14 hours a day gets old and certainly isn't as fun as flying! Good luck with the railroad, if it doesn't work out I'd give the oilfield a try. They can't find enough good hands out there, and pay very well.
 
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